Saturday, January 28, 2006

Stepping Back Into the River

Bullocks on the Betua River, IndiaI seem always to be stepping back out into the River. Which river is it this time? The same river, but a different step, a mildness, a tender stopping, not to make sure that the bottom is there but to feel the current and know the moment of letting go. When balance is possible and the ties of the past have loosened, it is as if the River decides and I become again a small bird diving towards the waves and refreshing myself for a moment before I cross to the other side.

Now I leave my small temple by the sea, a loose network of spiritual friends and familiar faces, and an archipelago of safe harbours where I have wandered for years between the sun and the wind to be uncreased and cradled in the art of growing whole. And my leaving is pungent.

To some, it is an estrangement, an abandonment, a quixotic turning away from the sought-after place of safety and saccharin assurances that fed long years of vague connection and accessibility. To some, it is an inconsequential leap out of earshot, far from the ground of our encounter on this earth. But to others, it is a sadness, an unspoken cry, lamenting the loss of presence and personal rapport, the long conversations and interactive support, the giving and receiving and the simple sharing of blessings.

For me, this departure is a realisation of something greater to be done, at once acknowledging what I have received and what is needed in order for me to give back. But what an act of unstitching it has taken to send me into the thrashing waters of anonymity and the unknown. How complacent I could have been, how comfortable - lulled to a flawed happiness in the ebb tides of conventionalism, barely in view of the real fibre of life and the precarious landscape I must traverse to realise my freedom.

But stepping out like this is a stepping in. I shear away the props and paraphernalia of my very existence because I must, because it is the only way to be true, deeply true to what I honour most in this world.

© Ayyā Medhānandī

Sunday, January 22, 2006

True North

Kapiti sunset, New ZealandSitting here in the stillness of a winter’s afternoon, I find myself in the middle of my life – or closer to the ending – as if suspended between two shores. I hold on to the one, the known, seemingly secure bit of earth where I landed six years ago in search of a haven - although I had the ultimate trust and refuge in the Triple Gem: nothing touches that.

To find suitable conditions for deepening my practice was as vital then as it is now, and I have been tenacious, determined to live out my remaining years on these shores. For starting again is a tiring process. And yet, I see how healthy it will be for me as I begin to let go this life – to venture out into the unknown once more. The irony is that I’m not being cast out. No one is asking me to go. I could just carry on here doing what I am doing and letting the years slide by inconsequentially.

Instead, what have I chosen? At this older, more vulnerable age, to thrust myself into the rapids of uncertainty; and to divest myself of the wrappings of a settled and viable life, in a beautiful, peaceful village surrounded by what is familiar and friendly. I really must be mad.

But I understand - and am grateful for - this madness that still flows in me; this clear sound of my own truth clamouring to be heard, offering me renewal and deliverance from habit. As much as my fear of change, so weighty are the bonds of my attachments, as well as the obstacles to my inner growth and freedom from all fear.

I have to trust, to reclaim full authority for my life so that I no longer make excuses for those who treat me shabbily. I may still choose to be silent but it won’t be out of fear that I will not be fed.

Therefore, going is imperative. I see that now. And to have chosen it myself – hazarding all because I believe there’s a truer, more connected way to live. And I have had to wake up to this, that only by stepping out from what is known and secure will I accomplish what may yet satisfy that calling.

Slowly I come to the full import of what it is to give up all that has sustained me here. I say goodbye to them one by one with thanks and a feast of gratitude, acknowledging the ways these varied friends have served and supported me. I don’t just mean the beings, but also the trees, the sea, the shells and the hills, my four legged friend next door, my books, my flocks of birds, the sounds of the wind and its songs, even the crashing waves as well as their often rhythmic whisper lulling me to sleep… I hold each of them for a moment longer, with a bitter sweetness, and I begin to let them go.

This process is a conscious dying - a vital choice for a spiritual aspirant. And I must keep exercising it for it has a power, and the giving up frees me to receive an even greater treasure.

Of course, the kindness and support offered by spiritual friends creates a bridge for the crossing. Without their unflagging faith in me, would I have the courage to do this?

As I step forward to take my leave, I feel at ease, hastening towards ‘true north’ - my home; there is no other choice than this.

© Ayyā Medhānandī

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The Mantra of 'Good Enough'

Young nuns at AmaravatiIn both the spirit and the letter of my Rule, I live as a beggar, completely dependent on the generosity of my supporters. I may not ask for anything to eat or drink other than water, unless a devotee makes a specific invitation on the day.

Likewise, I may not ask for things that I need except when invited. And when an offering is made, I must be mindful of what those who offer are able to provide, and carefully gauge what is appropriate for me to ask.

My Rule prescribes the correct ways for me to conduct myself both in private and public – from the care of my robes and bowl to the manner of begging for alms and how I relate to lay people. So I live simply, fostering contentment with the requisites I receive, particularly with regards to food.

The true basis of this mendicancy is the fact that even when I am hungry or in need, I can neither accept nor handle money in any form. This practice – letting go control over even the most basic resources for my survival – demands a choicelessness that violates the primordial human impulse for self-preservation.

Such powerlessness is greater than the sum total of every other monastic relinquishment. In the face of it, giving up sensory pleasure and material comfort pales because it calls me to live by an exalted faith - to trust that I will be looked after, that the folk around me will not only recognize what I need but also come forward to support me in the ancient way.

I watch the whirlwind in people’s lives, and the burden of stress with which they come through my door; wishing to give but being unable, or being able but not knowing how. I see all the degrees of generosity that the Buddha taught, from princely to pretence, from those fulfilled by the sheer joy of offering to those hoping their good deeds will bring reward or consolation.

In times of plenty, the joy of our reciprocity is sweet. But in the days of lack, of doing without, of enduring neglect, I am left to witness the flights of the mind into expectation, worry, disappointment, and fear. I struggle to accept whatever is given; not to pick or choose, comment or bargain, evaluate or reject; to let go again and again, and to return to that sweetness with gratitude - even while the inner dragons scream in protest.

And yet I have lived in blessing for, in the end, my strength seems to come from a new quarter that is not dependent on my needs being fulfilled but on the quality and measure of my faith.

© Ayyā Medhānandī