Bittersweet

A U G U S T   2 0 1 4

flower stars

One morning, God knows why, you are swept clean of yourself.

Wonder of wonders! Clear-headed and clear-hearted, you look around.

Things appear as they always have, and yet… you feel a kind of awe everywhere, a silent wondrous clarity spilling invisibly out of the moment.

You sense it’s not an amazement private to you — it’s everywhere! It’s the awe at the start of things, the awe of the fact that anything shows up at all! What can you say about it, this pure radiant generosity? It gives the light in the trees outside your window, and in your eyes, and in the seeing of your eyes. Wonder is its nature — wonder is not just your response to it — your wonder is its wonder!

You feel your heart bursting with gladness. Now you know what the poet Yehuda Amichai meant when he wrote:

     Behind all this some great happiness is hiding.

For you — for this moment — the great happiness has come out of hiding. You can’t describe it because it’s what you’re made out of. The great happiness is just how the moment pours forth, awesome and ordinary and not-even-here. You see the phenomena of the world appearing like the play and display of this great happiness — an infinite cornucopia giving forth supernovas and galaxies and a universe filled with light all the way down to the delicate primrose in your garden.

But immediately you sense something else, something coming from within the great happiness — it’s like a cry, a cry so poignant it has no sound. You know this soundless sound. You’ve known it for a long time. You can hardly bear it.

It’s the silent cry of the world. Not just the cry of tragedy, though it’s that too. It’s old. It comes with the world. It comes with being the world. It’s the cry of things mattering, of grief and pain. Bombs drop and splinter through children. An airplane explodes. An antelope succumbs to the lion’s teeth and the herd runs on without her. An old abbey is torn down to make room for a tourist hotel. A white-haired man sits in the park missing his wife, dead these five years. It’s the silent cry of things passing, things that matter.

Now you know what the Chan master John Hurrell Crook meant when he wrote:

      Perhaps, ultimately, there is only a great sadness…

The great sadness pierces your heart while the great happiness frees it. Jesus wept, though he knew the truth. Contemplating the world, enlightened Buddha shed that single tear. You know there’s no point in turning your heart to just one or the other — the great sadness and the great happiness come together. They are not to be resolved — they don’t ask for that.

You know what they ask. They ask simply that you accept them, that you accept being pierced and freed by them in the same way you accept your sacred mortal body.