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The Poetics of Inter Being : A Practice of Immediacy, Attention, Spontaneity and Love

Week 4: Everything is Part of the Heart: Writing from what is Most Intimate

Everything is Part of the Heart

We just have a couple more days of writing practice. And the last element I’d like to introduce resides in our hearts as the element of Space represented in Buddhism by the Great Teacher Shakyamuni Buddha, in the Christian tradition with the Christ consciousness and in other traditions with the realization of Unconditional Love. In the early stages of my Zen practice, when a lot of very difficult emotions were arising and I was frustrated and scared especially by the painful, afflictive emotions that seemed to be hijacking my life, my teacher said “Everything is a part of the Heart.”

Oh Goodness! I’d just received the precepts, sewn a rakasu, celebrated my Jukai ceremony and there I was embroiled in some of the most difficult emotions I’d ever encountered…or perhaps I should put that another way: that I’d ever LET myself encounter and acknowledge in myself. And I’d always been very spiritually and ethically inclined, involved with social activism, going on peace marches, war protests, alternative, low impact lifestyle choices and so on.  And at the same time a somewhat emotionally reserved person, shy and actually quite afraid of dimensions of myself that were perhaps wild, possibly unhinged, maybe even uncontrollable. The untamable unconscious filled with unimaginable horrors, monsters, psychological and spiritual darkness. Or so I thought.

But as Dharma teacher Larry Ward points out, our practice is to become whole people, not perfect people. And wholeness and maturity implies that we have the space within ourselves to contain, as Walt Whitman, says “multitudes”, even if those multitudes are none other than just our multidimensional, multifaceted selves:  weak, strong, angry, frustrated, terrified, blissful, sad, greedy, generous, selfish, altruistic, creative, blocked, tired, energetic, busy, lazy, playful selves. As we’ve explored this past month, poetry can be a vehicle through which we can explore other dimensions of our being. In playing with poetic forms, in taking a light-hearted approach to creating, sharing, editing, trying again and again, we can play with the whole range of ourselves, using language, meter, rhythm, rhyme and patterns as the catalyst for our practice.

When conventional narrative language about our lives either falls short of what we want to say or occludes more than illuminates our understanding, or continually trips us up in some way by our seriousness about our lives “Alas! Solemnity is the littlest god there is. Purposeless, inert solemnity!” (Rules for the Dance, p.96), poetry can offer a dharma gate to the use of language beyond language. “The apparent subject of a poem isn’t always an end in itself. It may really be an opportunity, a way for the poet to reach in and haul up whatever nugget of the human condition is distracting at the moment, something that can’t be reached in any other way. It’s a kind of catapult into another metaphysical country where one has longer conceptual arms.” (Deep Play, p.128)

Practicing a creative art like poetry (I think all the arts can function in this way…but that’s a bigger topic than I’ve got room for here!) we become larger, more spacious. We access different parts of our brain, our cognition, the emotional and spiritual depths of ourselves and create a larger, more authentic, wiser, more heart centered container for not only who we are, in our personal selves, but also who others might be as well. “Poetry, like all imaginative writing, is a kind of attentiveness that permits one both the organized adventure of the nomad and the armchair security of the bank teller. Poetry reminds us of the truths about life and human nature that we knew all along, but forgot somehow…A poem knows more about human nature than its writer does, because a poem is often a camera, a logbook, an annal, not an interpreter. A poem may know the subtlest elisions of feeling, the earliest signs of some pattern or discord.” (Deep Play, p.129)

So welcome to the Heart of the Buddha! The Heart of Wisdom! A spacious, loving, poetic container for all of who you are, for the archetypal and ordinary dimensions of your own self, for the community of readers and writers of poetry that stretches backwards and forwards in time and space, for people who have developed and invented forms, for all of us who wrestle with forms and exercise ourselves with them, sometimes with delight, sometimes with frustration, but who keep on entering the deep play dimension of poetry.

Intimacy: Writing from Inside, Outside and In-Between

Like moonlight seen in a well. The one who sees it blocks it. -Jane Hirshfield

I love this poem, because it gets at the artist's and spiritual practitioner's core predicament. Intimacy. Why is it so difficult to write from inside a subject? To enter the subject so completely that the observer disappears. To put the poet down, to put the writer down, and just write.

I cannot say which is which - the glowing blossom is the spring night's moon. -Shikibu

Express the room in one word.

This brings the spiritual questions to the fore.  If we drop opinions about the room, still, does our consciousness shape it? Can we perceive any experience clearly? Does experience even happen without someone there to know it? 

Then how would you begin to answer this request? How can we know the room without being in it? How can we be so completely the room, that we disappear? How would the room speak? If the room could speak, what word would it say?

How much in our perceiving is extra? How do we get in the way of intimacy? How does our writing block intimacy?  Can writing enhance intimacy? Bring life to the room? Express the inexpressible?

When we write from intimacy, do we become the subject? Do we become the object? Are subject and object one, or two?

How invisibly
it changes color
in this world,
the flower
of the human heart.
-Komachi

Basho said, "The problem with poems is that they are subjective or objective." His student asked, "Don't you mean, too subjective or too objective." Basho says “No.”.

What is he pointing at? Notice, what voice do you write from? Where is the writer, the seer, the knower? How is wisdom discovered? How does a poem reach its insight?

Study your style. Sometimes we write from assumptions about ourselves and the world. Not realizing that we are creating gaps.

Like I said, this is the most intimate struggle we will face as humans, as artists. To give voice, give expression, give shape to the most intimate experiences of being alive, being embodied.

To enter this territory takes a certain degree of guts. A meeting of ourselves and the world. A reckoning with the inconceivable. Playing in the mystery.

We may never be satisfied with what comes out. Yet, still we are compelled to continue to try. Not for anyone's sake but our own. And yet, somehow it is for the sake of all living beings that we continue. Some may say a divine directive, the Great Mystery, Truth.

Poetry may not be your art form. But living is. And to truly live, we must express what is most intimate. This is the single act of compassion that we are invited to share every single moment. Being genuine. Being true. Being irreverent. Inter-Being with all of Creation.

What's gone is already gone
and what hasn't come needs no thought
now for a right-now line
plums are ripe and gardenias in bloom
Zen Master Stone House

Practices:
Sit for a moment. Let your mind settle. Open your heart to all those beings in your life that you feel connected to. Feel their life, their joys and sorrows. Hold them in your heart a while. Then release them with a wish for their well-being.
Now, try writing a dedication or prayer. A verbal offering that honors your day, your practice, your art, your loved ones, your life, this world. Express from the depths of your heart. Give generously.

Write a poetic response to a poem that you wrote this month, or a poem someone else wrote. Read the original poem, sit with it for sometime. See if you can capture the writer’s intention, the poem’s spirit/essence. Then write from inside the original poems eyes. Present another lens to view the subject, another way to capture the essence. These kind of exchanges are common in the Zen poetry/koan traditions. Usually a response would be 4 lines. This is not a critical exercise, but an understanding and appreciation for the many voices and sides to any truth/observation.

Go forth and WRITE!!
Whatever you want! Try new forms, new ideas. Try writing villanelles or ghazals. Try Sestinas or more sonnets. Try renga or harmony poems. Try senryu, haibun or limericks. Try it all and see where it takes you. Sometimes you will write each day, other times once a week. Sometimes your poetry might go underground for a time, only to emerge at a later time in your life, metamorphosed. Even if you don’t write, try to see, feel, hear, smell, taste and touch the world with your poetic heart…the one you never really lost. The one you carry with you all the time! You won’t be sorry to walk in the world with a poetic heart…and you just might change the world, one poem at a time!!