Friday, February 12, 2010

Describe the fruits.....

"Describe the fruits of your practice......"
Someone in a dharma-group I belong to set this as 'between-meetings' homework for people that wanted to take the assignment on, and with intriguing guidlines for doing it...

"Give the non-dominant hemisphere a walk in the park by responding in fruity terms, staying with a fruity image/metaphor and letting it proliferate without pruning. Let your fruity insights present themselves in their own time and at their own fruity pace.....let there be absolutely no self-imposed pressure, just in playfulness and for playfullness's sake".

I liked the permissiveness of this, and decided to see what happened during the week, by 'not-trying' or contriving, not scratching after a concept or image as a chicken scratches for insects or worms. Difficult to do. As the injunction "Try not to imagine an elephant" proves.

Sure enough, within a couple of days, two images presented themselves. One was of a large dark-skinned avocado pear. It's skin was deep blue-black and shiny, and it was sliced in half so that the creamy flesh exposed a smooth round stone embedded in the lower half, and a correspondingly smooth round concavity in the other. The other image I will keep to myself, and see how that feels, and if it has anything more to reveal to consciousness.

What did this avocado image have to say about my practice? At first I had little to go on. I do enjoy an occasional avocado, eaten from the shell without dressing or anything added. I recollected that there was a large spreading avocado tree in the first house I was assigned when I arrived as an new expatriate employee in the Zambia copper-mining town of Mufulira. I didn't know it was an avocado tree until a local man told me. There were unripe avocados all round it on the grass. I don't think I had ever seen one before, and I didn't know they were edible.

The only connection with practice is that, shortly after I arrived in Zambia - in 1970 a complete innocent abroad - I had an unheralded experience of 'world collapse', lying in bed listening to the sound of drums from a nearby African township. I have sometimes traced my journey to Buddhism back to this experience, but memory is such an unreliable compounded thing.

Another link suggested itself, timidly. On the advice given by the teacher, I hesitated before 'pruning it' away, before dismissing it as irrelevant or far-fetched. And this insight, if that's what it was, came up: I have often felt that I have a frozen lump of unexpressed grief in my heart. I don't know why I should think like this, I am not conscious of anything I might grieve over, any unresolved sadness. But the feeling doesn't go away. I have, somehow, somewhere, an unrequited need to grieve for something lost. There are times, when I'm relaxed and reflective, that a long shuddering sigh escapes my chest, like the shuddering sigh of a small child who has sobbed until he can sob no more.

For a while, the exposed stone of the imagined avocado stood for the exposed grief in my heart, open to my gaze, embedded in its own smooth richness. And I remembered that it is from such a stone as this, properly nurtured, that a huge spreading tree could grow under a warm sun, and fine harvests of beautiful fruit could grow and drop to the earth for others to eat, or admire.

Is this a fruit of my practice? Should I 'accept' this seemingly unbidden image and my own interpretation. Or should I let it go as sentimental guff? Perhaps, and this response has a more comfortable feel to it, I should just leave it where it fell, in its 'is-ness'.

I've been reading a wonderful book, a slim volume by Will Johnson, "Aligned, Relaxed, Resilient" (Shambhala, 2000). It's a primer for meditators on posture, but more than just posture, on gesture, the embodiment of mindfulness. Johnson encourages practitioners of mindfulness, meditators, to 'meditate standing up'. Doing this, he suggests, makes it possible for us to re-engage with the earth, from which we grow, which supports and enlivens us, and which brings us always down to earth through the unceasing power of gravity. And it re-engages is us with the life-force that moves ever upwards through the watery ground of our being. It's a magical book, at least that's the way I've felt it.

Tomorrow I'm embarking on a new venture, it's the beginning of the Kalyana Mitra chaplaincy study-group at St Thomas's Hospital in Lambeth. I'll report on that at some future time.

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