A Little More About Boats

Yesterday evening, I had the amazing opportunity of being a meditation leader in a sangha that meets at a yoga studio in Bedford Hills.  The windows were open, a soft breeze and bird song wafted in.  “It’s an almost perfect evening to be sitting here together,” I said.  “Why almost perfect?  Why not perfect?” asked a man.   After we sat together and did a little walking meditation, I told the room I said “almost” not just because I like to avoid absolutes but because in my experience there is a yearning in most humans for what is yet to come–and also for what is past.   

I’ve been very struck lately about the way desire is rooted in impressions from the past.  I know I’ve been quoting a lot from Gatsby.  Maybe it’s the pretty weather.  This is the last time.  I swear.  But Gatsby’s yearning–not for Daisy herself–but for an impression of her, and of himself with her, that he carried from the past is a devastating portrayal of what the Buddha has described as the suffering inherent in the way our mind’s work.   Every perception and thought we have is colored bythe  perceptions, feelings, and thoughts of the past.  We crave things.  We yearn for a different way of being that is often actually a memory created in the past.   We are all like Gatsby who “wanted to recover something, some idea of himself perhaps, that had gone into loving Daisy.”

Like so many other humans, Gatsby imbued the object of his desire with the illusion of wholeness and safety, the grace and ease, that he and most humans crave.  When he was young and poor and insecure, he glimped on the porch of her beautiful house and was “overwhelmingly aware of the youth and mystery that wealth imprisons and preserves, of the freshness of many clothes, and of Daisy, gleaming like silver, safe and proud above the hot struggles of the poor.”

Gatsby dedicated his life to becoming someone who could walk up on the porch and be equal to that dream of wholeness, “he did not know it was already behind him.”   No Buddha, Fitzgerald nonetheless had the clarity to enough to know how we tend to be, we chase a future that eludes us, “but that’s no matter–to-morrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther….And one fine morning–

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

There is a way of being that has nothing to do with chasing a dream of being, forever reaching back into the past.  One man last night said it had to do with realizing that every moment is perfect just as it is.  I feel it has to do with realizing that we are perfect in our imperfection, in our yearning. 

In the end the think perfection/imperfect must be left behind.  No separation.  Just being.  All right.

9 thoughts on “A Little More About Boats

  1. Hmmm!

    Every June when I was a kid, my siblings and I were sent off to stay on our grandparents farm for two weeks. The farm was located in northeastern Kansas, just 15-20 miles north by northwest of Leavenworth.

    One the pleasures of staying there was picking fresh strawberries from the garden and having those for dessert that evening on my grandmothers homemade short cake. It was ever to good. We were always encouraged to have more than we could possibly eat, and what didn’t finish, my grandfather did.

    Those memories, which are so rich in imagery, run through my mind from time to time. This is one of them.

    Right now, I have a very painful desire, to go back and sit again at my grandparent’s kitchen table, to see their faces once more, to feel their love, and to taste those strawberries one more time.

    But, this is a good memory, a good desire, a desire that awakens redemption, reconciliation, and loving-kindness within the world. At least my world. Many of our memories and desires are like that, bringing us back into balance it seems.

    It is a memory and a desire that allows us just to be, to remind us that we are not separated from one another and that in many ways, all really is right with the world.

    1. Thanks Ron. What you describe sounds like nostalgia. I’m sure I wrote this once but it deserves repeating. The Latin root of the word means longing for one’s true home…which you achingly describe. I’ve had strawberries and shortcake like that…they taste of the goodness of life itself.

  2. Tonight my wife and I are attending my 40th high school reunion. Has it been that long for a young generation once shaped by Vietnam, Woodstock, Kent State, and the Hippie counter culture? Although, to tell the truth, most of us went on to become professionals at one level or another, becoming Doctors, Lawyers, and Indian Chiefs (management). The years have flown by and are flying by even faster still.

    Last night I had several different dreams about people I once knew and what they might look like now, smiling at their dream images, and wishing them well. Tonight I will be seeing some of them in person, and I will look closely at them, to see once again the eighteen year old still dreaming beneath the surface. We will talk about music and memories, children and grandchildren, although, in our case, Joanne and I have no children. We married later in life than most people.

    Still, it will be good to see these old familiar faces, I knew at an age, when I had no idea of whom I might one day become. I’m not convinced that I have changed that much. I still feel like me, I still love poetry and skilful writing. I still have the same continuity of thought and self that I felt back when I had just turned eighteen. What you have to add to that thought is a whole lifetime of experiences and of learning to let go, of learning not to cling to the many desires that once held my vast attention.

    Taking a few hours this evening to reconnect with a few old friends, does not feel like clinging to memories or desire, although we will share these too. It feels more like building or rebuilding relationships that once helped to shape us all and are shaping us still to some degree. All this makes perfect sense when you realize that any sense of yourself arises out of our relationship with others and creation (dependent arising-origination), with this immense interconnection or ‘interbeing’ (Thich Nhat Hahn’s idea of Emptiness) that we have between one another. It is a clear reminder that without the other, then there is no self, and that the self is also seen, and found within the other.

    The duality we feel, is more illusion than we may easily imagine; it is hard work moving our minds beyond subject and object.

    “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” – Corinthians 13:12-13

    1. That duality, that feeling of being separate, incomplete, yeanring for what we don’t have, that’s the rub.

      1. My previous rub comment was not intended to be erotic, I was expressing pleasure at the thought processes involved in the sort of rub to which you referred. It is one of the most enjoyable things to me in this life and I go after it with the gusto one might find erotic. :) Pardon, if it was interpreted as offensive, I assure you of my above meaning.

  3. Sometimes it is a sense of well being that was captured for a moment and associated with an object that was present in that moment. The object becomes a milestone marking an experience of wholeness.

    I’ve had this experience off and on since childhood and have referred to it as a “resonance” between the thing desired and something deeper inside of me. I’ve spoken to others about it and have met several people with the same experience. The memory of a certain toy I played with at the age of three years still makes me feel whole and well whenever I think of it.

    I’m glad you’re trying the blog and I’m glad to have found it. I used to read Parabola magazine many years ago and then fell away. My interest in myths, fairy tales and folklore has brought me to the Web site. Funny how these things work.

    1. Thank you for your comments…and for spiralling back to Parabola. I know what you mean by resonance.

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