In a year when much has been lost, we turn to gratitude Thursday. We give thanks for all we still have. Which is what I really want to write about this morning. But first this invitation. I bet you have food on your table. Probably in abundance.
“It’s such a critical time in food access.
Food security is a top priority for every community.”
Nicole McNeely, executive director of a food bank
Everything about food moves me and the suffering due to lack calls me to action. Please join me Thursday morning at 10:00 for Basic Essentials…to feed the hungry. While we practice, while we remember all that we still have, 100% of proceeds will go directly to Run to Feed the Hungry. So where food is critically needed, there will be food on the table. Thank you for joining me. And now a word about what we still have….
The Holidays. A phrase layered with a weird combination of joy and foreboding in this special year. Traditions steeped in childhood and layered through ensuing decades usually shepherd us through these coming weeks. A time of year when each day dawns darker and colder than the last. Checking in…how you doing with all this out there in weird-ville?
This is where I turn all Zen on you, since it appears we’re all enrolled in the same unique school. A school repeatedly testing us on our connection with form. A task-master demanding we watch the forms we have counted on dissolve. Again and again and again. I’ve had more practice letting go and being with disappointment than I ever dreamed possible. Take something as straight up as The Holidays.
Don’t gather with your family indoors. Don’t gather to worship. Don’t get on an airplane. Don’t go to parties. Don’t go shopping. Re-think how to cook and share your favorites with loved ones. Wonder about gift giving. Don’t even think about intimate gatherings to sing or dance or just hang out by the fire. In other words: give up tried and true forms.
I’m not addressing those folks who think all these new fangled rules are political in origin, meant to infringe on precious personal freedom. That would be a different essay. I’m talking to you intelligent but exhausted people. Am I the only one who feels this undercurrent of desperate spinning wheels? This anguished struggle to hold on to old forms, even if it means risking the health and life of people we love the most?
In the absence of tried and true old forms, what do we have left? Maybe my vision is clouded but from where I sit, I see only two possibilities: create new forms or get comfortable with the formless. We can count the amazing array of ways we’ve invented new forms. You only have to look as far as Zoom space to see something we never would have envisioned a year ago. Multiply that by a hundred. The creative juices have been astounding in so many areas of our lives.
But in our rush to keep going, in our American can-do-it-ness, we could miss a big lesson offered in the curriculum of this mass cultural Zen training. Perhaps this is our time to viscerally learn what formlessness means. Not the hypothetical notion of emptiness, but emptiness itself. Not the intellectual understanding about being with things exactly as they are, but the nitty-gritty experience of equanimity.
So my question today is this: what has value that is also formless? When we strip away exterior constructs, some really juicy stuff patiently awaits. Ineffable, ephemeral, indescribable….maybe this is the surprise blessing of living in weird-ville. When we peel away the hoopla and tinsel and razzle-dazzle from The Holidays we find the formless treasures that were always there. The foundational sensibility supporting the spirit of this season.
Breath is formless. Presence is formless. Love is formless. When we release our slavery to form, these jewels can really shine. Can’t you feel this? Isn’t this what we want to share with each other? In whatever way is safely possible? And so I ask…what is hidden underneath all the complex structures and forms historically laid down over our lifetimes? What remains? What is formlessly asking to be recognized?
When we get quiet enough, when we bring our focus to the internal weather, when we bravely stay with…the formless is revealed. Come practice with me on Thursday and Sunday this week. It’s so close right now you can touch it.