Posts Tagged ‘soul-stuff’

invite the enemy to tea

February 14, 2011
Pogo, by Walt Kelly

Epiphany 7 (year A)
“give, pray, love”
Matthew 5:38-48
(love your enemies) 

I went to the Rubin Museum (  recently for a tour and talk on the exhibit Embodying the Holy: Icons in Eastern Orthodox Christianity and Tibetan Buddhism. In one corner a large map of Samsara showed souls ascending through the realms of becoming, only to slide swiftly down slippery ramps all the way to hellish regions after embracing, say, Pride. The Samsara painting was paired with a Christian Icon of a ladder of St. John Climacus, with demons pulling at souls ascending the ladder toward heaven and dragging them into hell. The guide pointed out that in Buddhism you have many lifetimes to get off the wheel of becoming, that is, to reach Nirvana, and that in Christianity you have only one chance. She also said that the demons in Buddhism are the demons within yourself, and in Christianity, the demons are external.

Well, the lecture was not a time to argue and I had a train to catch.

But on the way home I thought about St. Anthony and his loud battles with demons, trampling, purging, wrestling and singing Psalm texts at them. And I thought about my inner demons and the story of Milarepa, the Tibetan yogi and poet. Milarepa began his life training as a sorcerer impelled by resentment and the desire for revenge. After killing his mother’s enemies during a wedding party, he repented, attached himself to spiritual teachers, and, according to legend, became the only sage to achieve enlightenment in one lifetime.  Several stories of demons attacking Milarepa in his cave exist, but I like the way my friend Brother Bede tells the story.

“How kind of you to come,” said Milarepa. “You must stay to tea. And you must come again tomorrow. And from time to time we must converse.”
Like everyone, I have enemies: people who have injured me deeply either deliberately or passively.  But my worst enemies dwell in the cave of my own heart. “Love your enemies,” said Jesus. “Pray for those who persecute you.”

So for the past few days, when my demons show up, I mindfully invite them to tea. Surprisingly, the bad spirits are less chaotic when I pay attention to them than they are when I ignore them.

The great Lynda Barry encourages her readers to find their demons through playing with ink and brush or pen and shares some of her own in her brilliant book One! Hundred! Demons! based upon a Zen exercise. She writes, “Discovering the paintbrush, inkstone, inkstick and resulting demons has been the most important thing to happen to me in years. Try it! You will dig it!”

page from One Hundred Demons by Lynda Barry

Coming to Terms … and Compost

February 7, 2011

Epiphany 6 (year A)
(not totally related, but tangential to Gospel this week, playing on a Thich Nhat Hahn quote on anger.)

A few years ago my best friend from grade school absolved me of all the hateful things I’d said or done to her over the years of our friendship as children. We’d recently found each other after forty-five years and on a long car trip, I confessed all the guilt I’d carried around with me since then. Point by point she replied with an alternate version, a memory lapse, or a comment; “Sisters always say stuff like that to each other!” and, “From a childhood development point of view, I think what happened was…”.  Because of this experience I can imagine pure redemption. I’m forgiven and loved, just as I was, just as I am.

My mistakes are part of me, not only because I still cringe over the ways I’ve hurt people, but because I tend to learn from my guilt. (I say I tend to learn, because I try and don’t always succeed.) So I love Thich Nhat Hanh’s metaphor of the compost bin when he writes about anger.


Cabbage, Portrait with hands, photo by Bill

It only takes a couple of weeks for a flower to decompose. When a good organic gardener looks into her compost, she can see that, and she does not feel sad or disgusted. Instead, she values the rotting material and does not discriminate against it. It takes only a few months for compost to give birth to flowers. We need the insight and non-dual vision of the organic gardener with regard to our anger. We need not be afraid of it or reject it. We know that anger can be a kind of compost, and that it is within its power to give birth to something beautiful. 

(Thich Nhat Hanh, Peace Is Every Step)

Can I really use my anger, my left-over negative energies, my faux pas, resentments, sins,  mistakes, bad judgments, mix them with the refuse of whatever kindnesses I’ve unwittingly managed to cultivate and let them rot together in the soul’s compost bin? And out of that mix, can I enrich the ground of my life’s work and relationships with wisdom?

Yes! As much as I’d love to erase my misdeeds from my own memory and everyone else’s, I’d prefer that energy to decompose, and, purified by internal heat, transform into something useful, and ultimately beautiful.

Thanks Jane.