Monday, November 24, 2014


We just ended the fall intensive Zen training period.  It was three-months of stepped up practice.  One thing that usually happens during this time is that the teachers assign a theme for an art practice.  This fall, my teacher asked everyone to write poetry (usually one can choose the medium - visual, movement, writing, etc.).  He then gave us a short selection about how to practice written by Hongzhi Zhengjue, a Zen master who lived in China from 1091-1157.  I can't find the piece to copy it here but essentially Hongzhi is asking us to notice what we have excluded, "integrate into our house" and sit upright with it.  My teacher asked us to choose something that we have excluded - be an international topic like the Ebola crisis or climate change or something more personal to ourselves - and write about in a poetic frame of mind.  

Although I had no particular inclination to take up this assignment, as Shugen described it to us, I immediately knew exactly what I want to - no, needed to - write about.  At the end of April, it was 20 years since I was raped.  To me, this event is as long past as the 20 years makes it sound so I was surprised that it popped into my head so strongly even as Shugen was still speaking.  I did a lot of work in the immediate (and not so immediate) aftermath to "integrate it into my house" and I have been quite satisfied that I have found an understanding and acceptance of what happened, so this too made it surprising.  Why bring up this old thing from the past?  But clearly, it was asking to be brought up, so I began to write.

As I began, I realized that what I wanted to explore was about being silenced.  There is the profound and violent silence of the act itself.  There is the self-silencing and second kind of humiliation that comes from dealing with the police and then there is the silence that happens as people begin to tire of seeing your pain.  Anyone who has grieved for a dead partner or friend knows what I am talking about here.  There is a time limit on suffering, or so it seems.  As I wrote more, I also realized that silence has other, sometimes contradictory, faces.  And that I want them all in my house.

We had a reading of our work a couple of weekends ago and this is what I read.  

Lucy left this on my camera a while back, so...fair game.

Silence:  An Epic Poem to be Told with Words in Three Minutes Flat

There’s the thing that happens
And there’s the story about that thing.
Telling the story is another thing.
Sometimes we need our things.
And we need them to be
just so. 

There is a difference between holding and releasing.
But both can be quiet, under the radar,
The opposite of noise. 

Sometimes the people who love you most cannot bear to see you suffering 
and they beg you stop-it-right-now
and because you love them too,
you do.

Once, when I was a little girl, I went with my father to the electrical supply store and the man behind the counter took my hand and squeezed it really hard because I wouldn’t answer his questions.  My father had to tell him to stop. 

Things get solid in words,
Hardly room to breath let alone form and unform
The way things want to do. 

Already people talk too much. 

I read in the newspaper about how soldiers in The Democratic Republic of Congo broke into a house, killed the father and raped the mother while her 13 year-old son was forced to watch.  Then they cut off her leg below the knee and roasted it on a fire and tried to force the son to eat it.  When he refused, they killed him.

I think about that woman often.  How does she manage?  Where does she find strength to make a cup of tea, sweep the floor, fold her clothes?  Where does she find strength to laugh at a joke or take a nice nap?

I think about those soldiers.  Adrenalin pumping through their bodies, fully aroused by the insanity of the moment.  The perfect logic of an almost unthinkable psychosis bringing them to a barbaric climax - as helpless as lost children.

To be quiet is a blessing –
Thank you for not telling me what you think. 

I would like your permission to say something.  Something stupid and ill-informed, that doesn’t add to the discussion, that is self-centered and pretentious.  Something that leaves you rolling your eyes.  Something obnoxious and obviously wrong.  Something at exactly the worst moment, that makes people turn away in embarrassment.

I want to say something without apology. 

How can I ever say anything?  Encase a feeling into letters?  Little set arrangements that make things so nice and pat?  My feelings are like the Gulf of St. Lawrence after a November storm.  They are a bog in Scotland turning plant life into coal.  They are the blue, blue sky. 

Why would I speak?
Can you blame someone for taking a vow of silence? 

You can’t not communicate.  If your tongue fails you, then your body will pick up the slack.  Eyes, shoulders, hands – dead giveaways.  People make fortunes reading the words that you never speak as they float over your body.  The flesh knows.  Every muscle cell is directly connected to the brain.   Each one a tiny holding tank of events, smells, sounds, things remembered and things forgotten. 

To be quiet is a blessing –
But funny how the need to speak becomes a gash, an open wound, arterial bleeding of the most urgent nature, when someone else tells you to be quiet. 

So please,
I want to tell you what I think.