Human beings have a problem with fear.
I guess it is evolutionary, as well as anthropological, cultural, social…all those tribal basics, banding together to protect ourselves from anything that threatens, anything that is not us. From this perspective, how likely is it that we will ever learn compassion or know peace?
There is a practice among Buddhists called tonglen, a form of meditation to engage in compassion that is not just deep but also wide, spreading to “all sentient beings.” I’ve written a bit about it here, as well. In the past year, I have had personal and social concerns that urge me to confront fear in a loving and accepting manner; otherwise, I think I would despair.
The world offers comfort to its compassionate observers. Sorrow and pain are part of life, but they are not the sum of life; fear shuts us off from curious and open-minded observation.
We may never know peace–not in terms of a constant, steady-state peacefulness; evolution doesn’t operate that way. Physics doesn’t operate that way. Change can be painful, but it is necessary and beautiful in its many unfolding ways. I wonder if it isn’t peace we should be seeking but freedom from a close-minded, intellectual sort of fear.
I am posting this poem (from my book Small Things Rise & Go, available from FootHills Publishing). Readers respond to this piece, I’ve found, in startlingly different ways. It is, among other things, a meditation.
We will not know peace.
Hay clogs the thresher,
Snow stoppers thruways.
Starlings haggle out the morning.
Red fox probes her muzzle
Into the voles’ weed bunkers;
Harrier screams over moors.
We will not know peace.
Here, the caterpillar
Tires chew fields into slog;
Here a child’s toy erupts
Into a village of amputees.
Sands shift under an abstraction,
The sea grows warm.
We will not know peace,
During our lifetimes, the tines
Break, the cogs slip,
Polluted slough impedes
Our efforts at contentment.
Our own natures
Bully us down: Peace—
Peace to those who do not know peace.
To the fieldhand knee-deep in grain.
To the broken doll clasped by a broken child.
To the small-time fisherman far at sea.
To my mother with war scrawled through her
To the empty church, the hill of snow, evening—
That may never know peace.
© 2002, 2006 Ann E. Michael
I would say it’s powerful, clear-eyed, but hopeful. Do others hear it more negatively?
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[…] am not a Buddhist; but learning about the practice of tonglen has provided me with a method for insomnia that does not feel wasteful. When I cannot fall asleep, […]