Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Let Me Tell You A Story...

I was pleasantly surprised to find a package from a friend in our mail box two days ago. In the package was a copy of Norman Fischer's newest book, Sailing Home. I am a huge fan of Norman Fischer - I find his way of writing about the sometimes difficult aspects of Zen practice so clear and honest. When I was on the verge of freaking out entirely on the airplane to and from Berlin last March, it was Norman's essay on shikantaza that kept me from running screaming down the aisles. I have only dipped into the first few pages of the book but it looks like a goody. I immediately lent it to a friend here on the North Shore because I know she would appreciate it and it seems unlikely that it will appear in the bookstore at the Corner Brook Mall anytime soon. It slightly delays my gratification but I can wait.

The package also was a surprise because the person who sent it (who is actually an old family friend of Norman Fischer, so I enjoy the six degrees of separation, or two degrees of separation) is/was someone with whom I was once very close but over the past year or two, has fallen away from my circle of acquaintances. Despite our diametrically opposed upbringings, we often seemed to be thinking almost in sync with each other. We shared a love of delving deeply into the what and why's of making art and of developing a spiritual practice. It may sound strange, but I remember reading her name on a list of attendees at the artist residency I was attending myself and knowing that we would be friends, although we had never met before and her name had absolutely no reason to stand out to me. For me, our relationship was intense and intensely satisfying on many levels but I always had hints, large and small, that perhaps it was ever so slightly less important to her.

About a year and a half ago, she stopped hanging out with me. There is no real other way to put it. She has been careful to let me know that it isn't me, personally, but rather things happening with her that made it impossible to spend any time with me. At the time, it felt a little like getting a divorce (I've never been divorced but I imagine it feels something like that - the hurt, the anger, the wish to hurt back, and the slow, slow process of letting the relationship be what it is and what it isn't). We still talk on the phone on rare occasions and we often go right back to where we left off: searching deeply for the reasons behind making art and meditation (or in her case, prayer). But I guard my heart a little now.

In the couple of pages I did get to with Norman's book, he was talking about the importance of stories to people, about how we so obviously need them since they have been part of human culture since before there was written history. He also points out that stories are so easy to believe in as our truth (especially the ones we create about ourselves) so that we begin to miss the real things that are actually happening around us. If I understand correctly he is suggesting we can use stories - ours and others - with our eyes open: to learn from them but not to get swept away with them.

It is funny? ironic? that this book from this friend would so clearly point to why it was that I was so hurt by my friend's need to move on. My story of our friendship was being disturbed in a way that didn't follow the table of contents I had created. Wait a minute! Chapter 12 doesn't end that way!! And there it is - the snare and the delusion (and then, the suffering).

What have I been missing while I was adrift in that story?

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