The Way Out is the Way In
I have a card on my desk that says "The Way Out is the Way In," a beautiful little printed woodcut showing a soulful face with a bird swooping overhead. The eyes of this face are somewhat hollowed and heavy lidded, a little weary looking, which is the way I've been feeling lately. Chogyam Trumpa Rinpoche wrote this, and it's these words I want to explore.
In all the years I've been meditating on retreat, I have heard different iterations of this saying, and it wasn't until the last week in October when I sat the Fall retreat at Spirit Rock that I allowed myself to accept this painful (necessary) inward journey. I understood that no matter how many remedies I tried to cook up for my loneliness, restlessness, confusion, and fear, I still had to look inside myself to care for myself, make myself feel better. What I discovered inside amidst the confusion and fog from lack of sleep was a deep sadness, an aching of loss for my grandmother and mother whom I've loved and lost, and a relentless cruel self critic that I have named Hortense. Alongside this unlikely mix I could feel a heart beating and that made my entire body feel warm; I touched my chest and heard these words, "May I be happy and peaceful." It was like a prayer in the night.
When I couldn't sleep at night, I pulled the blankets up around me and breathed deeply through my whole body in the darkness, and when I felt the pinching in my leg and ankle from my old injury while walking to the dining hall, I tried to send kindness and compassion to my body, instead of spite. When my body twitched in restlessness on the cushion, I simply saw it as restlessness in the body, not anything inherently wrong in me. One of our teachers said one night, "You are not your own fault," and the more I replayed that in my mind, the more understanding I found. We inhabit bodies we didn't choose, and these bodies do a wide variety of things that we have no control over, and then they age, and then they die. The bodies are NOT who we are. They are our temporary home... We need to tend them, care for them, and we need to locate within this bodily home our compassionate heart that says, "I forgive you for harm caused, for your inherent imperfection..." We are such a complex mosaic of dark and light, the throbbing of love and the aching of despair.
This last month has been a time more of darkness than light, but now I'm trying to reach inside and find the warmth. The numbers of hours I haven't slept, the confusion and anger and fear that has come as I begin to feel cognitively impaired, the different remedies I've tried that have not done their magic, and the sense of floating through a surreal dream that has resulted from all of it -- these have colored my time, dampened my spirits. But there have been a couple of gifts along the way which have given me hope and energy: my visit to the dignified old temple-like Columbarium here in San Francisco where I hope to have a niche for my ashes behind a lovely little glass door in a room where sunlight pours in through stained glass, and then a visit to Oregon to celebrate the impending arrival of a great grandson, a gathering where I was surrounded by daughters, granddaughters, other relations and friendly souls hugging one another and laughing, while a gentle cool rain fell outside. It had been so long since I had seen rain, and I remember putting my face up to it and smiling, feeling the cobwebs being washed away. Within a space of a couple of days I witnessed my own final resting place and the prospect of a brand new child in my family whom I will probably know only briefly. Death and life all felt, and deeply.
I am softened by all of this and there is now more space in my heart. In can go here when sleep refuses to come. It is my real home.