The clear sky has sit itself on a slant against the wall.
It’s like a prayer to emptiness.
And the emptiness turns its face to us
“I am not empty. I am open.
—Tomas Transtromer, from “Vermeer”
It’s the last day of my four-day fast, and like others I’ve read about who’ve fasted, I’ve experienced little enlightenment. The opposite, actually. A gnawing emptiness, food-envy, frustration, restlessness. A stark reminder of what all too many people live with day to day (and they don’t have a protein powder supplement). A reminder of chemo days, eating applesauce and rice water with a baby spoon. A reminder of how much craving is a part of daily living. Wishing I were more enlightened, had these things in perspective in the face of my hunger, but I hardly do.
Maybe that’s why this morning, at 5:30 am, I woke with a nagging feeling of not-enough-ness. Since I started this cleanse, a voice in my head’s been saying, “You could be doing a whole lot more.” More for the planet, for community, for strangers, for friends, more. A more spiritual life. Ever since I can remember, I’ve felt this inadequacy. It’s a dark place, a cardboard box folded over myself. Ever since I remember, I’ve been asking myself, what’s my purpose here on earth? Some days, we live our lives along an electric current, a sense of meaning, knowing: This is what I’m supposed to do here on earth. Most often I feel that when I’m writing.
When we had news of the stage of my breast cancer, that it was caught early, my sister liked to say, “It’s a save!” And I felt at times I’d been given, as my friend Asia says, a second chance, a second birthday, a new resurrection. In the hunger state, the question natters in my brain, “Am I blowing it? Am I worthy of this health, this renewed health, having my body broken down, stripped down, rebuilt, am I worthy of this incredible gift?” Swirling, drowning in this feeling, I sat down on my meditation pillow and picked up my journal and wrote. Isn’t life risk, striking out, the adventure of the unknown? Isn’t life service to others? Isn’t life spiritual practice? What is it I hold myself back from? What is it I avoid? Please don’t let me blow it!
And then a hen, out in the coop, began to caterwaul. In the dark, the sky just tinged along the extinct volcano with morning, a hen laid an egg and announced it to the world, as though it were the big news of the day, the top story. And just at that moment I was writing in my journal, Is it something about bearing witness, my purpose? Singing? Poetry? As simple as that? Words for things no one else pays attention to? Is that was I neglect, searching for something bigger, out there, beyond sight? My friend David calls our testifying to experience “making an accurate scouting report.” That’s what’s required of us, bearing witness to what only we can perceive. Because otherwise no one would hear that hen caterwauling at dawn, laying the dawn’s first egg, announcing this small thing she’s created at the top of her voice, as though hers were the only voice on earth. She doesn’t ask if she’s significant, if she’s done enough. This is her creation. This egg. Halleluiah.
And then the morning birds began, each voice announcing itself, its insignificant little life, marking out its territory. And then, out in the cove, a humpback whale blew, as if to say, “No, it’s me! It’s me being reborn here!” Is that it? I wrote.
My friend Asia is a painter, uses paint in such a way that it appears forever wet, dripping. She wrote to me the other day, that in this way, her paintings remain new to her as the day they were born. My friend Peggy is a poet. She wrote a book called Wings Moist from the Other World. They too, remain newly born, long after they’ve been written.
I wrote a letter to Asia this morning. Do you think the art we make is fulfilling the purpose of being one aspect of God’s witnessing eye? I asked her. And that maybe, if we do our part, collectively, the true earth is made visible, audible, complete? And it’s a collective effort – your painting joined to my poem joined to someone’s music, another’s dance? Like these birds repeating themselves all morning long, adding up to the voice of this place? All of it a prayer out of a greater emptiness? Is adding our voice, our unique piece, the hardest work of all?
Sometimes it’s like I have to force myself through an aperture, like an egg being laid, tunnel through the narrowness of my own mind and its crippling doubts. Writing through the tunnel is giving birth to myself, again, out of a terrible claustrophobia, the limitations of all of my judgments. Those birds repeat the same refrain as yesterday, as the day before. We can’t even tell the difference between one bird and another. But that doesn’t stop them singing. Is that what it’s all about, this being here on earth?