A New Old Flame

I’ve heard Buddhist teachers explain rebirth by asking them to picture  a candle being lit from a dying flame.  Something carries on, but what?   It isn’t one small flame hopping from one wick to the next.  Trungpa told people it was their neurosis, their unwholesome tendencies that carried on.  Doesn’t that send a shiver?  I’ve heard of Buddhist teachers talk about negative conceit, about the tendency to hang back and judge self and others harshly, the tendency to meet life with a negative expectation–imagine that attitude and those behaviors carrying forward, leading the way into your next life. Maybe they have.

And yet there is always hope.  In any given moment there is the possibility of stopping and seeing ourselves and really accepting the truth of the way we are.  Rather than tightly identifying with the behavior or attitude and preemptively judging it or covering it up, we might try non-identifying, approaching it as if it was the behavior of a friend, investigating it with an attitude of friendly but impersonal interest:  “I wonder why he or she lunges out of their seat and heads to the fridge when the subject of money comes up?”  At any given moment, another life can spring up in the guttering hopes of the old.

In those openings when there is a bit of free attention and we are interested in our lives in a new way, help appears, and from surprising sources.  One of the things I love most about working as an editor at Parabola and seeking to help it become a true community, is that it is beginning to offer material in the spirit of bringing evidence, not just offering guidance from above.   Hopefully, there is and will be something in each issue that reminds a reader that there can be these free moments, this other order of insights, this other life, no matter what is going on around us.

The stories of both Harry Potter and spirited young Jane Eyre carry rich evidence of the open of nature of our true selves.  The author Joyce Carol Oates (who has written some haunting tales of her own) observes that much of the power of Jane Eyre comes from the fluid, flame-like nature of her character.  The novel “is about a character stimulated into growth–truly remarkable growth–by place….Just as these carefully rendered places differ greatly from one another, so Jane differs greatly in them; one has the sense of a soul in ceaseless evolution….Bronte’s sense of human personality is that it is pliant, fluid, and living, in immediate (and often defiant) response to its surroundings; not that it is stable and determined.  Jane Eyre is no portrait of a lady but the story of a young woman in ‘heroic’ mode….” And what she seeks, according to Oates, is not any stereotypic male prize but “a power of vision that might overpass the limits of her sequestered life, pastoral as it is.”

When you are searching for a way of to be free–to be more alive and aware during our brief time here – reality itself can take on a magical quality.  Help comes.  As the Buddha himself discovered, the path rises up to meet us.  The trick is finding our way following one little flame at a time.

2 thoughts on “A New Old Flame

  1. Hello Tracy:

    Have become an avid reader of your blog. To help light that little flame inside of everyone I do not know of much better inspiration than Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If”, especially in times that you want to break from old negative patterns in your life.

  2. Hello Falk:

    That poem made such an impression on me when I first encountered it in school, like a clearing in the forest. “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs….” You are right, the poem is a guide to inner change. From the first line, it carries the idea that coming back to yourself, being collected and not carried along passively by life, this is the way to freedom and personal power.


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