March 25, 2011

no string attached

“I think it’s like a prayer.”

My then seven-year-old had answered her own question more exquisitely than I ever could have. I had managed to keep my didactic mouth shut and allow her to answer it for herself. Two quiet miracles in one quiet moment while a mother was at home with her child.

She had asked what the red string mussed three times around my wrist meant. Her mom had gone twelve time zones away about one year before to do something neither well explained nor well understood and had returned with only this odd scrap of cotton twine consistently appended to her left carpus and this modest advancement in parental quietude.

“That’s really it, Kyrie! That’s so beautiful.” I actually hadn’t thought of it this way before. 80,000 strings had been blessed by the Dalai Lama on a somewhat rickety stage on a warm morning in a field outside of Amaravati, India, before being rather casually and hastily distributed to 80,000 searching souls by a phalanx of earnest and energetic but hardly reverent young monks. I only heard something about a “blessing” in the tumult, and I just went with that.

I enjoyed the lack of ceremonial pretense. I enjoyed going so far for answers and then not bothering for answers much once I got there. Not four months past signing my divorce decree and fourteen days past the implosion of my not-for-profit and twenty years since going this far away, I was too tired and grieved to aspire to a more enlightened affect. And in every religion, stories abound of how you have to ache this much and walk this far and drop this despondent upon the same ground you have been plying forever – the ground of your own life – to see that this very ground holds what you have been seeking all along. That there is no spiritual attainment up ahead, in the future, in India or anywhere else. That transformation is always, and only, here and now. And, that you don’t have to make a big transformative deal about it. Just tie the string on. Just keep going. Answers only come when we are ready for them, and when we are finally quiet enough to hear them.

I heard in Kyrie’s insight something really necessary. The inversion of the location of our blessings. I’d spent a year thinking of the string as some little extra something from outside of me, from someone obviously more spiritually accomplished than me, which somehow could and hopefully would help me. Thinking that blessings are the answer to our prayers. She intuitively called me on it. It was me who had gone so dramatically far to ask something, not get something. In my imperfect efforts since then, she heard me asking for – and asking myself for – more calm, more equilibrium, more peace all around us. The asking was the transformative, not some shred of red string. Our prayers are our blessings. Our engagement is our spiritual ground.

Alone in a tent in India, I had written:

What of all this silence

contemplative  different

Had never thought before that from every pilgrimage there must be a walking back

We as a culture are so biased to the forward, the reaching out, the attainment, but what of the return

the what we return to

That is the fiber and constant of our lives

And the greatest blessing in our lives. Home. Not that there is no purpose to journeys, goals, aspirations and the like. It’s just never the purpose we initially intend. For me, I see that the purpose of all of my frenetic movement and “trying” all of these years has been to learn how to be still, and a kind of quiet, throughout it all. To simply be at home in this world.

“And when is it going to fall off, Mom?”

“I have no answer for that, Honey,” I replied, but I was bit anxious about the answer, wondering how very long it might be before I was calm enough for this little prayer to be answered enough to fly off. As I fumbled to tie that string on seven years ago, I also had overheard someone saying, “You mustn’t cut off the string and when it falls off, don’t throw it on a rubbish pile. You must put it in a moving water, or bury it under a tree.” Four years later, my stringy prayer and I were out at a music gig, one of those where a wristband made of indestructible paper is quickly affixed to your person. It was a great night of just being in the present moment, but it was no big thing. I was just there. And, I just felt so blessed to be there. To be here. As I stood at my sink that night and grabbed my curved cuticle scissors to get the almost tight wristband off, I felt just a bit more urfff as I pushed the blades of the scissors together. That was weird.

Rut Ro. A blue scrap of Tyvek paper and three beloved strands of faded but still strong red life fell into my palm. In my pajamas and enjoying the kind of bemused smile I have spent years searching this earth for, I counted my blessings for quite a while and dropped the tiny nest into my bracelet box. I heard something different when that prayer cut loose, so I have kept my whispering threads a little longer. Not because I am attached to them. More because I’ve detached from attaching any formality to such things. When I hear the next answer in a moving water or under a tree, I’ll say another prayer.

Categories: Buddhism, Poetry

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