I don’t know about you, but I know for myself that I struggle from time to time around issues like despair, grief, fear and pain. Or perhaps, the terrifying all-pervading fear of despair, grief, fear and pain.
And that can be a very lonely and overwhelming fear, except that the fear isn’t lonely – it calls in its pals like guilt, shame and humiliation.
These pals are what the Buddha’s teachings might identify as the second, third, fourth … nineteenth darts, compounding the first dart of primary suffering. So the place of fear can get pretty noisy… and that is where mindfulness practice can – I guess – provide an awareness of a stillness in spite of, and deeper than, the noise. You can find resources to help you explore mindfulness practices at wildmind.org
Anyway, and anyway. At the core of mindfulness is the practice of opening to awareness. Indeed teachers like Jon Kabat-Zinn (and I do like him!) have defined mindfulness as:
the awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally.
A few days ago, struggling with my fear demons, anxiety demons, despair demons, I heard below and beneath their chattering a fragment of a phrase:
“of which he knew, and I was unaware”
To those who recognise this straight off; well done! For those, like me, who had forgotten (or never knew until today) I have copied Thomas Hardy’s poem ‘The Darkling Thrush’ at the end of this piece.
When I did look up the remembered fragment, what filled me with a shaft of delight was the reminder that Hardy, more than a century before me, had been nudged into creativity by the song thrush, Turdus philomelos. [ Read about the song thrush in Britain ]
Its voice has often been my elating accompaniment when I furtle* in our garden at dusk, all the more joyful to me because of its unexpectedness.
[*furtle is my own compounding of pottering, fumbling and reflectively cultivating, often with a small hand-fork or trowel, often in the twilight that I love.]
Even deeper into my mythic sense has settled the experience I rested into towards the end of a workshop give by Jan Parker, called “Death and the Beauty that Lasts”. We – a weekend group at Cambridge Buddhist Centre, UK – were invited into a meditation in which we rehearsed what it might be like to let go, one by one, of our living senses – to let go into a profound peace.
It won’t surprise you to hear that – as I slipped into a gentler and kinder place of refuge, of sanctuary, of wholeness, that I seemed to become aware of what might lie beyond, beneath my mortal experience, and that as I emerged into a deeper place of rest, it was as if I heard the first stirrings of the song thrush, into a fresh and breathless dawn.
The Darkling Thrush
Thomas Hardy, 1840 – 1928
I leant upon a coppice gate
When Frost was spectre-gray,
And Winter’s dregs made desolate
The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
Had sought their household fires.
The land’s sharp features seemed to be
The Century’s corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
Seemed fervourless as I.
At once a voice arose among
The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
Upon the growing gloom.
So little cause for carolings
Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
And I was unaware.