I wash my face with cold water –
Not for discipline,
nor the icy, awakening slap,
but to practice
to make the unwanted wanted.
(A Cedary Fragrance, by Jane Hirshfield)
I thought of this poem at Wilbur. I have always loved it, with its evocation of Tassajara, where there is only cold water in the cabins. I too practised with washing my face with cold water every morning, even on the coldest winter days – and I still do, mainly for the awakening nature of it.
On the Saturday morning, with the temperatures already reaching the nineties, I went to sit on the yoga deck with a few other people who all came very early. As we settled, I was looking at the picture of the serene Buddha, with his hands in a particular mudra. In meditation instruction I often talk about the particular energetic significance of each hand position within the tradition that yoga and meditation arose from. And also how our physical posture as we sit is also of energetic significance; I usually spend a fair amount of time on details in the body which I have found it helpful to pay attention to as we settle into sitting (if you want to hear me actually talking about it, you can find a recording here.)
There were a fair number of flies that morning, as well as the sound of water, of people passing, birds, and the occasional vehicle. I spoke about practising equanimity, of sitting upright as a way of meeting each moment, without leaning forwards or backwards, or to the left or to the right, regardless of what comes up. Acknowledging that what is arising now IS what is arising now, whether we want it or not. And trusting that it will not always be like this, that this present moment is in flux. I was thinking of the wonderful quote by Katagiri Roshi, which I appear not to have posted on here yet: ‘The universal path is complete tranquility and at the same time constantly flowing’.
So, I went on, we can get to notice how we respond when a fly buzzes close to our ear, how our skin reacts when a fly lands on it. Do we need to wave our hands to try to get it to go away? It will head off somewhere else very soon anyway; can we stay with the irritation and discomfort for the moments that they last?
At Tassajara I discovered that my limit in this regard was having an ant crawl into my ear – that was something I felt I had to try to shake off, but otherwise, I did my best not to be disturbed by the flies. When we can practise with these little things, then we have a chance to build up our equanimity muscles so as to be able to meet more challenging moments in our lives. We may even discover that we have a far greater capacity for meeting these challenges – and I invoked the residents of Houston dealing with the catastrophic flooding that is their lives at the moment – than we might imagine in our thoughts and fears. And so on, all the way to the end, as tomorrow’s poem will illuminate.
The sunrise on Saturday morning at Wilbur.