108 Names of Now
Here is a good invitation:
We have been sitting in silence for ten days straight. The person I thought I had the hots for was (surprise!) unstable and tragic enough that he left before dinner on day two. Would you like to spend a couple of days with me here in this little retreat center, learning how to use a pickaxe and having actual conversations, before we decide on anything more drastic?
Yes. Yes, I would like that. This is the first time in my short life that I am away from my family for Christmas, and so, yes, spending time digging big holes and mending things here with you and some other quiet people would be nice.
Here's another one:
Having dug holes with you for a few days, I realize I am glad the other, tragic one left, and it is you I am spending time with. A few years ago, I walked all the way around an island, and that was pretty wonderful. I notice we are on an island. Would you like to walk around it with me?
Yes. Yes, I would like that. I have been a monk for the last three years, and have come to realize that that life is doing violence to the tenderest parts of myself. I am still in love with the beauty of shaved heads & alms round, of living in the jungle and being quiet, but I know my heart is withering, and so here I am. Let's walk around this island together.
Will you teach me that song? The one that goes, All of the world is just one narrow bridge, which we must cross, and above all is not to fear?
Yes, as the water laps up onto this dark beach, I will teach you. Also, here's another one: My very life is sustained throughout the gifts of others. That is a good invitation.
Will you let me get closer to you? Will you let me unmonk you into the world? I would like to invite you to complete the work you've begun, by dismantling it.
I invite you, dogs, to stop nipping at my legs.
I invite you, nuns, to call your dogs off.
Dogs, we invite you to cut it out. This one's no trouble.
Tall, hairy lady, we invite you to come inside and eat pink crumbly biscuits while we apply bandaids to your leg. We are sorry, but our dogs do a good job deflecting wrong invitations people may feel from our small cluster of women's huts. Widows' huts. We shave our heads, but we aren't nuns.
Please come sit with me in this circle of stones under the rubber trees, under the bodhi trees, in this holy forest where nothing is holier than in any other forest. Please bring your bandaged leg. Please let's sit here together as we fly apart.
Please let's give one another the blessing of leaving our lives exactly backwards from what they were: you leaving where I will go; I going to what you have left.
Later, when I am a nun, you will invite me to leave the monastery, saying my being there is a crime against the heart. But I won't. I need to be a criminal for awhile. I need to keep doing this violent discipline, getting up in my cold, smoky hut, hauling barrows full of rocks, starving and dreaming, for awhile. And you need to find your own way back, failing into greatheartedness over lifetimes.
Tissaro, you were.
There was another Tissaro, a French one. I stayed in a borrowed flat in Clapham with him one night - he was disrobing and I was only going deeper into it all.
But you were the one who accepted my invitation to go around the island, and I was the one you invited to learn:
All that is mine, beloved, and pleasing, will become otherwise, will become separated from me.
You were. I was. I am glad we both knew when to accept, and when to decline.
We were still together that New Year's Eve, and he invited us to come with him up a river, up a waterfall, to a place where a couple farmed cashews, for lunch.
It was an amazing meal, a place that scarcely bore believing. How do you run a restaurant in the middle of the jungle, with no path and no signs?
Actually, I felt the invitation was to you, and I was an accessory to the fact. You and he talked about Thai toilets, with their water-scoops; and Western toilets - "nothing but a smear-job." I still think of this twenty years later, reaching for the toilet paper.
I felt like an accessory to the invitation because that is a lot of what I'd known from the world. The child as an afterthought to the parent. The woman as an afterthought to the man. The individual, to the family. It was a bad habit. Invitations, I now know, should be to a particular person, issued and accepted clearly enough that a person knows what her choice really means.
I felt he saw what I saw - how pretty your face was, behind the grief - but he had a better claim, being also a man. How gay was the monastery? It was mostly straight-gay, I'll bet - that kind where what you really mean is Stay with me, but what you say is This is the way of the Noble Ones.
I want to be able to say Stay with me, not, Here is what we do. I think I can say it. I think I say, Come to this room, and write. You give me courage. I may still turn to dogs when I can't say what's too raw, but your presence, your writing, is an invitation to be brave.