Discipline is important. When we sit down to meditate, we are encouraged to stick with the technique and be faithful to the instruction, but within that container of discipline, why do we have to be so harsh? Do we meditate because we ‘should’? Do we do it to become ‘good’ Buddhists, to please our teacher, or to escape going to hell?
Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart
WHERE’S THE JOY IN ALL THIS?
While studying more about yoga recently, I found an idea suggesting that while following the proper techniques to meditate, we lose our humor, our passion for finding whatever it is that opens to us, and I immediately remembered the smell of stale, cheap coffee paid for with desperately counted change while sucking the marrow out of life, as one poet suggested, and writing my book (apparently) in graduate school. Just as the way a slight adjustment in my practice on my mat can alter my entire experience, this idea about losing joy shifted what was once a disturbing question about why I don’t write poetry anymore into a study of where can I accept art and passion into my life.
In graduate school, we sat around at workshop, annihilating each other’s works, picking at each poem’s form, each word, line break, image, detail, rhythm, continuity, and of course font. I can pick apart a poem quicker than I can enjoy it now. I have lost my passion for that art. I was taught that poetry began where science and art met, but I needed something more substantial, some sort of bodily proof of that platitude in the teaching and the practice I was given. In Buddhism, there are not only teachings, but technique which can bring get relief to its students and followers. Of course, it was relieving for me to find that by the end of graduate school, I could rock most any poetic form, with a few nice twists and even some beautiful images, but in the end, I had no passion for those words.
I can look back at my manuscript (when I can find it…), read certain poems, and remember exactly who said what about them, and who I was trying to slight or impress with my images, line breaks, and font. The form of poetry lost its fire and life for me. Discipline is great, if only we can maintain the spark and passion that we felt when we sought that discipline. Discipline and practice only mean something if we can remain open to find passion.
In looking back from a place of many years and more experiences, I believe compassion would have kept me writing poetry. I found none in workshop after ego-driven workshop. A dear friend from that time, though, taught me a phrase one evening as we lamented workshop gossip over some wine. She said, the form must meet the function. To be honest, I found great relief in that phrase and even found myself going back to church, something very non-poet in that community. I knew church, I knew the flow, the rhythm of the mass, but again inside those walls, the rigid silence I found, where was real-ness, the pith, the community, the substance, the connection, the compassion?
I suppose compassion in this sense is about compassion for the truth, to be brave enough to accept that maybe my writing community was okay, but that I lacked the appropriate discipline to grow wings from their fire. Church may be good, but I lack the ability to accept some of its rules. I may always feel healthy, but tests say I ride the line between normal and abnormal. Accepting these things about myself, and not so much about the objects that cause these ideas is what growing up is. Luckily, I find the most compassion as a practice and for myself on my mat, and I go there often to find it. Where do the rest of us find the compassion it takes to become the people we are meant to be?