And of grief, carry it not as a burden Though you are bent to breaking, and beyond do not carry it as a burden.
Instead, bow down to it on your knotted hands cracked elbows, scarred knees Bow down in it as deep as you can go.
Fall past the tearing at your own soul through the loss that calls you to leave everything behind and join with what has gone.
Sink into that – until you know the whole universe has changed, irrevocably, that nothing will be the same ever again
until you know this so deeply that you understand nothing ever was the same, ever, ever, ever . . .
The bewildered, anguished weeping of your ﬂesh that so delighted in and feared change now trembles and shakes.
Meet this utter loss. Meet it. And bear witness while it is stripped of everything but its helplessness - no skin, no bones, no face, yet looks you straight in the eye while it crumbles. And becomes something it didn’t know existed,
something that knows grief is the resonant echo of life sounding the depths of change,
and carries grief not as a burden, but as a truth, a gossamer extension of life, light, delicate ﬁlaments, illuminating inﬁnity,
in which it bows and begins to dance.
The first time I visited Plum Village I stepped out of the transport van into the small courtyard of New Hamlet. A timeless welcome ﬂowed through the old shutters lining the thick walls around me. I was told to put my bags down, register inside, ﬁnd my room, and then come back into the dining area for a little more orientation. My way wound through narrow hallways to the barrack style beds in the dorm room. The feel of old stones and something quiet made my body smile.
Free from my luggage, I returned to the courtyard, walked back up the few stairs of the entryway, and turned right towards the dining room. As I stepped over the threshold, a gentle tidal wave of energy washed over and through me. Astonished, and in awe, I couldn’t move, nor did I want to. I stood there in awakened gratitude, feeling the magic and reality of longing fulﬁlled, as every cell in me was bathed in the experience of Well-Being. My feet felt fully connected to the earth. Everything was open. Everything was here. I had arrived.
In each subsequent retreat at Plum Village, I felt the fruit of practice alive in the air. It was all around: a deeply nourishing presence my whole body received. But even as I recognized it, I did not experience it residing in me or easily accessible through my breath. Inside, I was more aware of a lingering sense of dismay and searching. My breath would slow into something other than peace, a tension or fear, or a deep and almost motionless hiding.
Through the years, the collective presence of the Plum Village Sangha offered me steady solidity and cradled my mind, heart, and body energies. This deep Sangha support allowed and called layers of distress to arise in repeated attempts to be seen and tended by mindfulness, often accompanied by a helplessness and despair that held hostage my suffering and eclipsed love. Even though I felt I was swimming upstream, I knew I was steeping in something as precious as anything I had known: a key to the end of suffering.
I slowly learned which images, concentration, and inner mantras brought me ease. The solidity of earth that supports me as I sit and as I walk, the sun that warms us wherever we are, and gradually, an unwinding of tension into restfulness. My metta meditation became: “May I know that in me which is always peaceful. May I know that in me which is always safe. May I know that in me which is always happy,” and so on. The extended verse followed the forms: “May you know that in you” and “May we know that in us.” The certainty afﬁrmed in this practice kept my rudder set on the truth.
Over many years, and much exploration and perseverance, the “personal contact, images, and sounds,” to which the Fourth Mindfulness Training (Awareness of Suffering) alludes, brought a solid remembrance of Presence I could trust. With right diligence, I felt the fruits of practice offer me increasing nourishment. And gradually, my breath began to harmonize with the eternal Presence of Well-Being until it found its own rhythm and opened its wings into freedom. The loveliness of life began to walk hand in hand with the suffering.
The two poems, “Of Grief ” and “This Life,” describe some treasures I found while walking the Plum Village path. I offer them with gratitude for the Sangha, the Dharma, the Buddha, and Thay.
What is this life? if not a great lifting of wings
from earth to the heavens, the whole universe opening with the dive into deep space.
Stars’ delighted twinklings welcome us into an exquisitely inﬁnite smile melting our hearts to eternal love.
Here, a gentle knowing whispers us on feather soft wings to that very point where our toes touch unto earth and into our lives.
Our roots sink deep, endlessly renewing.