Author’s Note: I wrote this poem after attending a week-long silent meditation retreat at a place called Mt. Eden, at a time when I felt the way Eve might have felt after being kicked out of Eden!—alone with wildly flowering negative tape loops running through my head. I posed the question in the poem to the teacher. His answer inspired a comforting sense of connection to our common human condition, and a desire to build the “muscle of tenderness.”
Everybody Who Sits in the Zendo Is Breathing
In life, we can’t always control the first arrow. However, the
second arrow is our reaction to the first.
The second arrow is optional.
– Buddhist Sallatha Sutta
You watch through the triple-bay window,
twenty geese shift into wide then narrow formations,
over and over. You know you are not a bird.
And for the first time you are comfortable
knowing you are nothing special,
that the mind widens and narrows
over and over, even in the most practiced,
and the secret of the most practiced is
they believe this is not a problem.
Everybody who sits in the zendo is breathing.
Some with difficulty. Some with ease.
You can’t tell who is what, whose house
caught fire last week, whose jealousy eats
away at her. You sit with your own
obsessions, fixations, useless stories.
Your breath shortening, throat tightening,
loosening. In the Q&A, you ask what the Buddha advised
about painful tape loops that keep replaying.
He says, First notice that your tapes, like everyone
else’s, are the loopiest. Everyone in the zendo laughs.
Then, let them be, as you would a toddler in tantrum,
and if all this fails, there is nothing left to do
but grit your teeth, make two fists,
take the thought by the throat
as if you were a sumo wrestler, and drag it
into a pit of hot coals. Each time it reappears.
Develop that muscle, he tells you.
This is a very advanced kind of tenderness.
Doris Ferleger is an award-winning poet and creative nonfiction writer. She is the author of three volumes of poetry, Big Silences in a Year of Rain, As the Moon Has Breath, and Leavened, as well as a chapbook, When You Become Snow. She holds an MFA in poetry from Vermont College and a Ph.D.in psychology. Dr. Ferleger is a mindfulness-based therapist in Wyncote PA.
Delmarva Review publishes evocative new prose and poetry selected from thousands of submissions annually. Designed to encourage outstanding writing, the literary journal is nonprofit and independent. Editors welcome submissions in English from all writers. The submission guidelines are posted on the website: DelmarvaReview.org.
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