Welcome to my new blog address! 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? Back at my old address, we were talking 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 charming set of attitudes, automatic behaviors, unexamined beliefs carrying forward, leading the way into the unknown?
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 therfore 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.
Back at my old address, I touched on the meaning of Harry Potter and spirited young Jane Eyre . Consider this rich evidence of the open or selfless nature of self: Joyce Carol Oates 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 (since some commentors have objected to “hero” in the past) but “a power of vision that might overpass the limits of her sequestered life, pastoral as it is.”
Call it synchronicity. When you are thinkig of bicycles, you see bicycles. But I think there may be more to it. When you are searching for a way of to be free–to be more alive while we are alive- reality 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.