Something about Dōgen as an audio companion on my trips around the Upper Valley, something about strained homecomings, brought estrangement to this morning's practice. I started from the feeling: what is it like, when you're coming home from a long journey, and the one you've been longing for in airports and motels is like, meh? Is like, you don't get to call me your anything at all, because I've been monstering along unpossessed and free. What is it like when, whoops! you find you've actually been quite happy in the straightforward space of your solitude?
Dōgen says, Make the things of this world your enemy, and you will find clarity. That sounds like a recipe for profound estrangement, but it isn't necessarily so.
Within the space of practice this morning, I bring up all beings everywhere who are estranged: from themselves, from their situations, from their homelands, from those who claim to know & encompass them. From those they want to claim and know, and who resist this with all their life-force and self-knowing. I see mothers welcoming home children who are ashamed of them, and children made to feel they are not part of the proper family. I see teenagers banished by homophobe families and good girls sealed off from everyone by that one awful night by the pool in the dark. I see young men seeing no hope in their homelands, and no hope in France, lurking at the Chunnel mouth for a chance to be estranged elsewhere. I see Greeks estranged from Europe, themselves taking in those estranged from elsewhere. I see married couples whose estrangement has grown into a thin grey film covering all domestic surfaces and vistas. It is a lot. A whole lot, and at the same time, a huge relief: All of us. All the gated communities and locked doors, the reactionary movements and revolutionary movements, the teenage angst and midlife crisis, the internecine warfare and the truckloads of antidepressants. Everywhere. In our estrangement, family.
The heart, of course, has to grow pretty enormous to take all this in, but it's something we're capable of, something we know we can do. This too will be felt. And this.
Usually, when we think benevolently about estrangement, there's a wish to find a solution for it all, creating a new context in the world, within which the heart does not feel mute, unwanted, irrelevant, distant. I think Dōgen & this commonality-in-estrangement practice are saying there is another way. We don't have to counter a worldly not-belonging with a worldly belonging. We can leave our belongings behind & instead find refuge in the space of the heart that knows things as they are, does not fixate on for-and-against, and has room for all opposites. The heart knows, Oh! That's belonging. That's not-belonging. Refuge is the space of knowing that is itself beyond estrangement and belonging.
Whenever I am nearing some kind of big departure, waves of dying will come find me in the midst of ordinary life. I can't bear to be away from the dog! I love this street so much! This studio is an incredibly precious resource! This bed! This kitchen, knife, and board, and the big jar of walnuts! All gone, so soon!
Here, I could say, There, there! You're going to such a nice place, and you'll be back home in no time. But that doesn't go to the truth of the feeling. Instead, I can acknowledge that this imminent departure is a kind of death, and agree to feel what I am feeling. I can feel this love and loss in its full intensity, allowing everything to fall away, because that's what it's doing anyway. I can offer up every beloved evanescent thing, sending it back out with gratitude to the mystery from which it came. Dog, house, studio, husband, sandals that work so well in the rain, ridiculous fishing pants, Tara thangka painted by my own hand, bossy rabbit pillowcase, plans, dreams, deerskin drum: all gone, given, and remaining. Not estranged, but released. Goodbye! Still here. Always coming home.
Make the things of this world your enemy, and you will find clarity seems like possibly a problematic translation, and a merciful invitation to step out of the cycle of for & against, belonging & estrangement. Jesus said, Become passersby. He didn't mean, Isolate yourselves. He meant, Allow yourselves to feel completely, and then let go. I crack my heart open, vowing & failing & vowing again not to meet estrangement with estrangement. I do not make the things of this world my enemy, but I am learning not seek refuge among them, either.