My nephew picks up his shoes and ceremonially takes them to the kitchen sink, in which he drops them with wild giggles. He is a full on heart song at times like this. He is a kid with that kind of spirit that can crack one’s heart open.
I’m vaguely aware that this week is Holy Week in my faith tradition. I have never been so aware of the heart of this time, however. Somehow I was always more captured in Lent by the pain of it, the discipline of it, the loss of it, the judgment and the wrong sightedness of the players in Holy Week. This year, somehow, in Chinese medical school, I feel a greater affinity for the heart of this week. I am more cracked open perhaps than I was in my black robe with scripts of words for preaching. So remembering my brother’s son, teasing and putting his shoes in the kitchen sink seems fitting this week. Because I suppose, in my tradition, this week is the week when things go amiss and are all put wrong.
I learned recently in Medical Chinese class that the word we have for ‘busy’, when directly translated from Chinese to English is literally “disappearing heart” or “heart disappeared”. This fits. This passes through my mind and is, perhaps, now written on my heart and in my blood to remind me that being busy is not being important, or having value, or even particularly productive. It is scurry and it leaves the heart behind. It is like throwing shoes around but not remembering to giggle. It is to not pay attention.
Our ‘rescue’ dogs (who in my opinion, are fostering us and granting us rescue), Louie and Karma know what it is to pay attention.
Here they are watching the squirrels in our front yard. They have been known to stand as sentinels watching each tail flicker for minutes at a time without making a sound. This is not busy. This is mindful and present. It is, I believe, their version of holy watching and sacrament would be the chance to chase, capture, and control a squirrel. At times they come close.
The school I attend builds its curriculum in part around the notion of cultivation. We practice ways of being in the world, in our own experience, that change us cell by cell, thought by thought, action by action. I once focused mostly on action and encouraged friends and colleagues to join me in acting. I worked hard to change the actions of others and to change my own actions.
Now I find it is all I can manage to pay attention to my own actions and to the places they derive from. I notice more what is missing in the spirit of places and among people than I used to notice.
I miss heart of late. My intended practice is that of gentleness for the time being. For this holy season. There is little gentleness out and about. Our home in Raleigh missed major tornado damage by one building’s length. Literally. I am grateful for that, and equally mindful of those whose homes and lives were gutted by that fierce fearsomeness.
We are renovating a house in Asheville in which we will soon be living. Part of that house was taken down to the studs and exterior walls. Walking through that 85 year old structure, so exposed, so open, laid so bare haunted me in a way. It reminded me that we, too, have times we feel so exposed, are laid so bare. Those times can come in the unexpected rage of a tornado or with the steady slamming of hammers, mattocks, and shovels. Sometimes those ‘renovations’ come so slowly we barely notice, a thought floats by that calls another thought into question until we find ourselves imagining a whole new way of making our life. Sometimes they come like water over a rock, slowly steadily reforming, restructuring, smoothing rough edges.
After learning about busy-ness and the disappearing heart trick, I decided to forgo more studying Sunday and go on a long anticipated hike with Allen. He lives more by heart than mind, and I do my best to learn that gift from him as much as I possibly can. I try to learn Chinese medicine by heart instead of my rote. Consequently, it is slower going for me and I often feel lost and bewildered in class when the correct answers are shouted out by others quicker on the draw. It takes me the time to remember the conversation I was having with myself and the material, to recall my imagining about how Chinese physiology explains things differently.
On our hike I watched my heartmate notice the red bark of a tree, stand at the edge of a rock and feel the wind and shiver just a moment. I often watch his eyes. In Chinese medicine, the eyes reflect the state of the heart. On this day, his eyes were clear, shining, present to the foot falling and the foot rising. Step by step to the top of Sam’s Knob. It was a good and gentle practice to usher in the Holy Week, the week of last tests, class projects, and case studies.
Ahead are a few weeks of exams. Then a time to rest, to absorb the details, to mull over what it all means and to remember that much of this is shoes in the kitchen sink. It is the out of placeness that makes it meaningful, and joyful, and delightful.
I have some friends who like to say that they see that I am busy a lot. I used to find this a compliment. Now I am saddened by that perception. I don’t feel particularly busy, but I do feel that my plate is full and it takes me time to learn this new conversation and way of seeing the world and life. When I reflect on the experiences and relationships that have brought me to this holy week, this juncture, it is like looking at all the trees and colors, smelling the grass, seeing the chair waiting, yet paying attention to and feeling fixated upon the horizon. The detail out there remains unclear, but the way is made. For this season, my strategy of moving forward is gently, heart appearing.