Someone got me waxing about Spider Robinson leading me to Reb Anderson the other day and "Don't trust it, trust what," which guides much of my normal life. I found my copy of Warm Smiles from Cold Mountains this morning. As I prepare myself to shift gears in my day, I want to share with you some of Reb Anderson's talk "Life is Not Killed," which has been very comforting today.
When we understand that life is the manifestation of the whole works, the words to kill and not to kill are beyond their literal meanings. I think of the little wind bell hanging like a mouth in emptiness, not being concerned with north, south, east, west, good, or bad, just being a wind bell. Just hanging there as a manifestation of the whole works.
Life is just like this. Life is just living. Death is just dying. That's all. The wind bell is just hanging. The wind is just blowing. It moves the wind bell. The wind bell is just moving. It doesn't wish that it were moving in some other direction. It is manifesting its gravity and the movement of wind, and this is all that it does. It is the whole works and that's enough. And that's so simple that the human mind can't stand it.
I can be angry at my brother's death, but my brother's death is like the wind bell. What good does it do us to be angry at the wind bell? The wind bell is just there, being. The wind bell can neither comprehend that you want it to change nor exert any force upon the world to change what it is doing. It cannot change what it is. The nature of the wind bell, the nature of my brother's death, is simply to be a thing that exists in my path. It is what it is.
And when your path carries you away from the wind bell, you may miss the sound of the wind bell. You may stop in your path, but you cannot go back, because life compels you forward. But that sound is not gone. That sound still is because you have heard it. You carry it with you in your mind and your heart. You are who you are because you have heard the wind bell. And a little further down the path you may laugh that you do not miss the headache you were getting from its incessant ringing.
So while I can dawdle on my path, this will not lessen my pain. I must continue onward into the future with the rest of the people I love. To deny this is to deny the present moment which must be lived, and I cannot change that by wishing that I lived in a different moment. The moment is too stupid to know that I don't want to be in it. The moment only is what it is. That is my turnip for now.
What is this turnip I speak of? Reb Anderson tells a story about a woman living in a monastery who threw herself into a great despair by imagining the fates of those she loved. This is very like imagining where the dead have gone when they leave you behind. But even in her despair, the business of living must still be attended, and so she went into the kitchen to work:
She was given a bunch of turnips to cut. She asked the turnips to save her— she appealed to each turnip as she took it in her hand— and the turnips saved her. She got to cut the turnips.
The world of before and after was always a hairsbreadth's deviation away, but by continuously going back to the turnip and cutting it— thump! thump! thump!— she was saved.
Later she found out that there had been a miscommunication, and everything that she had imagined was a dream. She was released from the bad dream, and now she imagined that all the people she loved were happy.
Then she realized that this was just a dream, too, and that the people she cared about might be utterly miserable. She couldn't know. But the point is that as she switched from dream to dream, where did her turnip go? She had lost her turnip again.
The turnip is your present moment, the sum of your entire life— all the things you must do, all the dragons you must face. Its face changes when you cut it, bit by bit, into something more manageable. When we recognize that the turnip only is what it is, we will get to cut the turnip, and eventually the meal will be ready and we will look up and smile at those who have joined us at the table.
I don't particularly like the taste of turnips. But that is a good metaphor for how now tastes, and the turnip is all that there is to eat. I cannot pretend that those I love are still here. You cannot cook a tough, large turnip like it is a strawberry.
But sometimes the pain is too much. Like the woman I just told you about, you go crazy. If the pain destroys your ability to practice patience, then you're cooked. You're temporarily disqualified from the game. But when you see the consequences of that, you come back. Maybe somebody walks up to you and says, "Sister, regain your presence of mind." Maybe the pain's not so bad anymore. Maybe it's the same. Maybe it's worse. But anyway, you come back into it and you say, "I'm going to work with this turnip." Thump! "I'm going to receive the precept of life is not killed. I may have to cry my way into it. I may have to slide my way into it, but somehow I'm going to get into this body that I've got. I'm going to get into this mind that I've got. And I'm going to use this to save myself."
So, the turnip is all there is, but it does me no good to be mad at it, when the turnip is too stupid to understand anger. When I could be frying it in butter with the salt of my tears, that only are what they are. And when I share my turnips with those around me, someone will bring carrots and potatoes to the table that is life and we will eat them together and it will all taste okay. And tomorrow when I look for my turnip, I may get broccoli or peaches or something I understand better how to eat and enjoy, or perhaps I will discover I have developed a taste for turnips and approach them with more relish.