From Bill Alexander’s blog, “Silver Tea”
Bill will be co-presenting, with Lama Losang, a workshop on Buddhism and Addiction Recovery at KTD August 2-4.
July 17, 2013
What follows is edited from the manuscript of my unpublished book, Sober Mind, Beginner’s Mind. I repeat, unpublished. Unpublished but available to any publisher who might want to take a look.
I’ve heard that a spiritual awakening which does not awaken the sleeper to love has roused him in vain. Jessamyn West said that. So read on.
I am a beginner, always, cast up on the shoals of the vast ocean where God dances and all beings are born and return to. My longing for home, I see, is the universal longing to return to the love out of which we were created.
But mine is the heart that Auden speaks of when he says we love our crooked neighbors with our crooked hearts. I have been a man of large and reckless appetites. There have been many lovers, and too much drink and far too many opinions and ideas and certainties about what is. I have two natural born children and five more step children, teachers all. I have never held a job for more than three years and have lived all over the country and spent lots of time in foreign lands, favoring the exotic, like Bhutan and Bali. I have fallen thinking I was rising and stood up, thinking I was alone in such climes. I have been and remain, arrogant and frightened and loving and kind. It was all a stew, more questions than answers. It remains so, to this moment. But not like it was, not at all. I learned to become absorbed now in the trees that surround my old house and the waterfall that rushed right beside it. And yet – I had no sense of it all until the summer of 2012 when I was teaching about addictions and the relief from addictions at the Tibetan Buddhist Monastery in Woodstock, NY with my friend Lama Losang, who spoke one sentence to me that I noted, but only began to understand many months later. “Bill”, he said, “it’s all just a dream”.
I got it. It took a while, but I got it.
Now, through the glimpses of love never recognized until long after their passing, and through glimpses of love, right here, right now, I offer this little meditation on love, unexpected and unsought.
I had been surrounded by and inhabited by love, so profound and so quiet, that in all my busyness and searching I could never feel it. God breathed love into me, endlessly, and I thought I was the one doing the breathing. God loved me while I thought it was I who had to be the lover. I was immersed in love, inner and outer, eating forbidden fruit on our farm in Tennessee, passing endless tiny altars in Ubud, Bali, in useful solitude in Gainesville, Florida, in the penetrating heat and wet of the Costa Rican jungle and, most easily noticed, in the cold and beauty of Minnesota winters; now my holy ground.
And I continued in my reckless ways until they fell apart, until Narcissus fell into the pond, and until I momentarily actualized the well-known phrase of the prayer attributed to St. Francis,
“For it is by self-forgetting that one finds/It is by forgiving that one is forgiven/It is by dying that one awakens to eternal life.”
I did so by surrendering, kicking and screaming, to the power of one simple prayer, uttered internally, while walking into the small town where I lived, on an ordinary day in ordinary weather, doing the ordinary job of picking up my mail, from Pat in the post office, dropping by the general store, in hopes that the frozen Bison meat was back in stock, and dropping by Ostlunds garage to say hello to John and to dear Toni, with her wheeled oxygen bottle and warm wool cap. An ordinary day, until my soul whispered that forbidden prayer that I had so loathed for many years, so drenched in separation, such heresy to a still ignorant Buddhist, as my fledgling mind thought it to be.
“Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me“, and the trees came to life and danced and the breeze caught the dance from the leaves and breathed it into the air and across the grasses, which danced and I, I danced along, transfixed by the spot where I had always been. I am no more a Christian than I am a Buddhist, no more mystic than apostle. I came to, right smack dab in the middle of love, my only religion, my binding, my connection back to the source of it all. And I felt whole.
And then Win and John and David and Jo and Laura and Toni, and all their kin and mine, popped out into 3 dimensions and then 4 and then 6 and more and took their places in the endless net of light, diamonds reflecting diamonds across the entire universe, within God and outside of God and I saw them for the first time.
And then I got the mail and bought some frozen Bison and said hi to my friends and came on home. Not that I had left, as Will told me. A perfectly ordinary day. And the dance, begun in those trees, continues. Just look around, pilgrim, without your ideas of how it should be or even of how it is, and you’ll see the juicy aliveness of it all.
It ain’t easy. It’s all just a dream and it still ain’t easy.
So I don’t have the solution here, the answer, the final word, the program or the path. 71 years gone and I’m still standing, for the moment; standing in bewilderment and confusion. Embracing my scandalous confusion, rich with the spiritual opulence of “just don’t know.”
Only laughter and gratitude.
It’s a start.
Happy Trails, Bill
Copyright Bill Alexander, 2013