Thursday, August 18, 2011

One or Two Things

Don't bother me
I've just
been born.

The butterfly's loping flight
carries it through the country of the leaves
delicately, and well enough to get it
where it wants to go, wherever that is, stopping
here and there to fuzzle the damp throats
of flowers and the black mud; up
and down it swings, frenzied and aimless; and sometimes

for long delicious moments it is perfectly
lazy, riding motionless in the breeze of the soft stalk
of some ordinary flower

The god of dirt
came up to me many times and said
so many wise and delectable things; I lay
on the grass listening
to his dog voice,
crow voice,
frog voice; now
he said, and now,

and never once mentioned forever,

which has nevertheless always been,
like a sharp iron hoof,
at the center of my mind.

One or two things are all you need
to travel over the blue pond, over the deep
roughage of the trees and through the stiff
flowers of lightning --- some deep
memory of pleasure, some cutting
knowledge of pain.

But to lift the hoof!
For that you need
an idea.

For years and years I struggled
just to love my life. And then

the butterfly
rose, weightless, in the wind.
"Don't love your life
too much," it said,

and vanished
into the world.

- Mary Oliver

I heard this poem last year during a Monday night class with Jack Kornfield at Spirit Rock Meditation Center.  Those last few lines have been lodged in my mind ever since.  "Don't love your life too much," says the butterfly.  This is the stinging message I feel like sharing with everyone since losing my boy. 

For me, the butterfly is a symbol of our impermanence.  With both its short life cycle and its metamorphosis, it represents a deep truth about the nature of reality -- that one thing always changes into another.  The butterfly is telling us not to grow too attached to things as they are because everything, even our suffering, is temporary.  In my grief, I also hear the butterfly shouting out a reminder not to let our lives pass us by.  This is the "idea" we need to "lift the hoof."  When we are touched by death, we see the preciousness of life.

When I look back on all of the stress, anxiety, and depression I've had in the past (and there was a lot of it), it all feels like dress rehearsal for what my family is experiencing now.  It all seems like small stuff.  While I wish I would have seen the preciousness of life back then (and skipped all of the years I struggled) I also think that going through all of that gave me some tools for navigating these waters now.  All of our experiences are our teacher.  

The "one or two things" seem to be hinting at the non-dual nature of reality.  Life and death, pleasure and pain -- these are inseparable and this knowledge gives life meaning... but this alone doesn't end our suffering.

The "sharp iron hoof" must be our human suffering -- the nagging feeling that something is wrong with our lives.  It's my understanding of the Buddhist teaching that we experience this dissatisfaction, or dukkha, when we deny the transient nature of reality -- when we grasp too tightly to things as they are -- and when we desire for things to be different. 

Maybe this poem is saying that by accepting the impermanent nature of reality, the sharp iron hoof at the center of our mind is lifted... that our suffering ends when we see that each fleeting moment is beautiful just as it is... and that we would be wise to realize this, to listen to the god of dirt saying, "now," before it's too late.

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