22 October 2012

The Waiting

He sat in the shade of a tree and waited. The road up to this point curved imperceptibly through the vast swath of memories, experiences, gains and losses, hugging tightly along mountain vistas and in the deep darkness of humid valleys. He decided to stay put until he found the answer, some solution to the problem of suffering, of dissatisfaction. The sun faded beneath the horizon and he meditated.

I was teaching Buddhism the other day and as I tried to explain the concept of dukkha, I found myself sliding down a slope of analogy. A few days before I had driven home from visiting an old friend and found myself in a kind of sadness at leaving his company. Similar feelings abound in almost any departure of mine from anyone I hold dear. I told the students that had Buddha been in the car, he might have reminded me of the impermanence of all things, including the good and life-giving things. I had to catch myself and pull back.

Gautama is, of course, not the only one to come to such conclusions. I can think of Stobaeus and Heraclitus in their own places coming to similar insights; I can think of Boethius being thwacked by Lady Philosophy to similar ends. The reason we encounter unhappiness isn't because some temporal good or relationship has been taken away, but because we ascribe to that temporality some definite, lasting meaning for which it is not equipped.

The tragedy of my history of friendships runs thus: I either fling myself into them with such reckless abandon that they are destroyed or I keep myself at such a distance as to be basically unaffected. Rarely do they take any form, via media. 

I am, of course, getting too old for this. I am too old for this.

Perhaps the sailor's most dreaded state is not the maelstrom but the doldrums, those impassible lengths of complete and suffocating stillness. No amount of frenzy on deck will stir the slagging sails; one must, in such instances, conserve energy at all costs. Resources wear thin, as do nerves and wherewithal. It is hard to hold to hope in such moments.

The instinct is to sit at the base of a tree and wait. It is to walk away from those encounters that are as vaulting as they are devastating, to find some middle way spoken of by the ancient ones. Perhaps. But one thing seems certain: I cannot go on living in the frame of being as a hapless twenty-something. I sit, then, at the base of a tree and wait. Bring on insight, old age, whatever. Mine, o thou lord of life, send my roots rain.

1 comment:

Lisa B. Suntrup said...

"Down dropped the breeze, the sails dropped down,
'Twas sad as sad could be;
And we did speak only to break
The silence of the sea!

All in a hot and copper sky,
The bloody sun, at noon,
Right up above the mast did stand,
No bigger than the moon.

Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.

Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink."

~Rime of the Ancient Mariner