The lake reflects my face holding my attention like a little child holding the finger of an elder. Leaves are rustling and shrubs are dancing their little cryptic dance around me. Little deeper beyond my floating image, water is dark and opaque as if nestled into a gentle fuzzy embrace of a mystery. In that moment of stillness, the depth of the lake reflects my own heart—nay, our shared human fears and anxiety which lie buried, unattended, un-held and untouched like a forgotten guest who arrives at the dead of one wintery night.
It came to me that just as the lake holds her secrets in her belly, so do we. Just as the gentle agitation at the surface of that water may not know what lies in the depth of its own being so is the case with our thinking mind. Our conscious mind so full of thoughts, emotions, promises and do’s and don’ts and is not largely aware of what is going on in the deeper recesses of its own being. The depth of lake holds her secrets from its waves in the same way as our inner being holds its secrets from our conscious, busy, and discursive mind.
Both shallowness and depth, whether of a lake or one’s mind, have their promises and perils. Shallowness is safe and exciting, and may be full of transitory surprises, but nothing timeless is revealed in this realm.
Depth on the other hand is dark, scary, still, foreboding and forbidding, suffocating but may be full of possibilities. This is where treasures are held—the treasures of our life. Shallows are for the ordinary stuff.
We can only begin to appreciate the beauty of lake and what it holds or the beauty of our life and what it “is”, by taking the courage to peer into their darkness and reaching out to all the fears of the unknown and the demons that lie within. Staying on the shores, whether of our own being or a lake, prevents us from knowing who we are and where our real treasures are.
Wendell Berry’s words illustrate that call to action:
To go into dark with a light
Is to know the light.
To know into the dark, go dark,
Go without sight.
And find that the dark too
Blooms and sings
And is travelled by dark feet and dark wings.
But it is not easy to peer into one’s own heart and its darkness. It is not that we are afraid of looking; instead it is fear of finding something which does not fit into our assumptions and images that scares us. Somehow strangely we do not want to let go of our idea of self, even if it is illusory.
Without looking into that dark corner, however, we remain half-fulfilled. We turn away from the chance of ever touching the richness of our own life and continue to swim the shallows of turbulence without ever being anchored in stability and promise of depth.
Taking the courage to acknowledge our own darkness is what mindfulness practice trains us for (come join us on a mindfulness practice journey, beginning October 3). It is what awakens the warrior within, not a typical warrior but a peaceful warrior. With each step, we prepare our self to face our own fears and despairs, even if it happens in hiccups over a long time. It is an archeological process where we systematically peel away illusions that we have gathered about ourselves through the process of living in a worldly place.
As an ancient Indian folktale goes, wherever treasures of gold and other valuables are to be found, one will also find a cobra sitting at the entrance of treasures. You have to take care of the cobra before you can lay hands on treasures.
In the journey of self-discovery, cobra symbolizes our fear and attachment. These are what prevent from touching what is so changeless and essential in us.
Each day when we set our cushions and mats to rest the mind and body, we gently start working through the task of befriending the metaphorical cobra that sits coiled at the entrance of our own inner sanctum. Through this process of observation and commitment, we rise to meet our inner rich landscape—the very nature of our being without any assumptions and conditions, the source of unbounded joy, creativity and richness.
*Derek Walcott’s Love after Love sums that meeting beautifully:
The time will come
When, with elation,
You will greet yourself arriving
At your own door, in your own mirror,
And each with smile at other’s welcome
And say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was yourself,
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
To itself, to the stranger who has loved you
All your life, who you have ignored
For another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
The photograph, the desperate notes,
Peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
*Derek Walcott. Collected poems 1948-1984. NewYork: Farrer Starus Giroux, 1986.
(Our Fall 2014 Intro to Mindfulness Practice program starts from October 3. Come join us on this wonderful journey of knowing yourself and developing self-intimacy in a supportive and encouraging setting)
Parmjit Singh, PhD