Storied Beings

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We humans are story-telling creatures, and we are also storied—we have levels of stories and insights inside us.   And here is a secret: we open to the most profound truths when we relax and let go and dwell peacefully in these bodies on the earth.  “What are we really working with?” asks the martial arts master Peter Ralston, in the soon-to-be-everywhere “Power” issue of Parabola (http://www.parabola.org/) “Regarding the body, we must begin with the most obvious and simple description of what is there: an object in space resting on the ground.”

A group of us did just that yesterday in the beautiful cool space that is the New York Insight Meditation Center (http://nyimc.org/).   We started our day sitting in silence, abiding peacefully in the body.  After, we allowed the stories to come.  There were stories of loss and love and search, rendered in rich sensory details.   Some of these stories carried the sense of being in a body on the earth.  We return to the body and the earth in moments of great shock, moments when great human stories are forged.

In Moments of Being, Virginia Woolf describes a few instances in childhood of “sudden violent shock” –a moment of suddenly remembering that she was in a body alive on the earth.  “I was looking at a flower bed by the front door; ‘That is the whole, I said.  I was looking at a plant with a spread of leaves; and it seemed suddenly plan that the flower itself was a part of the earth; that a ring enclosed what was the flower; ad that was the real flower; part earth; part flower.  It was a thought I put away as being likely to be very useful to me later.”

Yesterday, we experienced the way these moments live in us like time-release capsules of living truth.   Very useful.

“All you’ve got to do is to stay where you are,” taught the author and Trappist monk Thomas Merton to a group of novices. “You don’t have to get out of this ‘base, earthly being’ which you are and climb Jacob’s ladder and get way up in heaven where God is, because if you do that, you’ll never pray. You couldn’t pray.”

Yesterday, I remembered that writing can be a way of praying, a way of opening to what is unknown, allowing it to appear…or not. Transcribed and collected in a work called Hidden in the Same Mystery, Thomas Merton’s teachings remind us that whether it is prayer or writing, there is really only one place to start: “You have to start where you are and stay with it, because God is in you as you are, and doesn’t expect you to be any other than you are….”

Comments

    • Warren, the image of St. Stephen’s Cemetery at your blog site helps me imagine how it is that individual stories are carried along and within metta stories–how water droplets are distinct from- yet still part of- the great ocean of Story.

      I also enjoyed reading your About page, where I was struck by the fact that you participate–just like our family does–in an un-programmed Quaker meeting.

      Best to you in your commitment to learn how non-violence can both be a world view and a life-practice.

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  1. Very nice. Thank you, I’ve been thinking much about prayer and praise as a response to what is within or right at hand. A couple days ago, I shared (on my FB page) the following poem from the Duino Elegies of Rilke:

    Praise the world to the Angel, not the unsayable: you
    can’t impress him with glories of feeling: in the universe,
    where he feels more deeply, you are a novice. So show
    him a simple thing, fashioned in age after age,
    that lives close to hand and in sight.
    Tell him things. He’ll be more amazed: as you were,
    beside the rope-maker in Rome, or the potter beside the Nile.
    Show him how happy things can be, how guiltless and ours,
    how even the cry of grief decides on pure form,
    serves as a thing, or dies into a thing: transient,
    they look to us for deliverance, we, the most transient of all.
    Will us to change them completely, in our invisible hearts,
    into – oh, endlessly, into us! Whoever, in the end, we are.
    ………..
    P. S. The editors of Parabola ask this question of us Parabola readers: “Can a blog be a means of real exchange?” I believe that Tracy’s blog offers a springboard for genuine dialogue. I’ve already benefited from reading the individual comments in response to her reflective essays. It would be lovely if this forum could engender even more free-flowing and exploratory interaction among us.

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    • Thank you for sharing this beautiful passage by Rilke, Bob (and for your whole comment). It does deepen and broaden the sense that we can only write and pray from where we are.

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  2. “We humans can only take so much reality.”

    I love this insight and believe it is true. Sometimes I think it is the design of our brains. I saw an experiment where a poster had an error in wording and nearly every person asked to read the sign did not detect the error and read it aloud without the error. The scientist said, “The brain tries to make the world sensible.” And sometimes I think it is the design of our nervous system: too much of a shock can overload the system.

    So, we make the world fit our brains and our adrenal glands. :)

    But in great insight as in great athletic feats, there ares some intrepid souls who can face Kali or the mountain and become even more fully alive. You had that.

    As for me, after reading your ghost story, I said, “Please, mother [who has passed and was greatly loved], don’t visit me.”

    I can only take so much reality at any given time.

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