Tuesday, June 02, 2015
To You, Friends of the Diaspora,
Below are two stories providing a brief background as to why I grew motivated to return to Addis Abeba… and am writing from there now – “as we speak”.
(For background on the background, see after the stories.)
May these stories find and leave you well! Cheers,
this is a love story.
This is the flowering of an insight. Initially, it erupted onto the screen of my psyche, my psychic landscape as if wrecked by disaster. But perhaps such an image is too strong: this eruption of insight felt less the destruction of disaster than the disorder of a sea change, as a swell from the deep.
There was an experience, a dawning. As I minister and midwife adults through their English language learning, I watch them expand, and I watch them contract. I hear them flow between the fluency of a familiar tongue, a mouth that moves with ease, to these strange sounds. It is like a digging up and rooting out, an excavating, maybe even exhuming. It is like I watch them find caves in their insides, dim, damp, cool; shelters welcoming, fit for dwelling.
My perspective – watching others learn language – allows me to see myself differently. “This labor of language is the love of my life,” I wax watery. And indeed, it has felt laborious. Finding my way between tongues has felt stuttered rather than fluid. Of course, I found ways: breathing tidally, month-sick, moon struck. Watching my students, they appear to me fluid in the process of it all, being stretched while their bounded beings stay grounded in their bodies, their images appearing to me while their selves are annihilated, expanded, excavated before my very eyes.
Sanskrit sarati, river, shares the same root as saṃsāra: √sṛ, meaning to flow. Flowing through endless rounds of death and rebirth, these languages breathe life into me, giving me names that I did not know I could have: subhrū, a woman with lovely eyebrows, or rKub-rKyag, butt-lifter, that is, chair. These words bloom into worlds… while I cannot speak my fathertongue. This story is a minefield… although my name is not in my language. I have no native script… I assume these forms that I may seek my ‘love language’: a woman rambling, a wandering being.
I watch them expand, and I watch them contract. I hear them flow from the fluency of a familiar tongue to these strange sounds. I started to stutter as a child, and I still say my s’s funny. I started to stutter as a child, so my father stopped speaking to me. There is feeling here. My family, we found ways, ways round rocks and logs, falling down falls, roaring, roaring, ways of drowning out the roaring… We found ways round, finding now how much we lost upstream. Some feelings can’t be recovered.
For yet others I don’t have names. I grew surrounded by his sounds – amarignya: cousins and uncles and aunts, the smell of spices and coffee roasting, laughter and music and shoulders eskista-pitching, clothed in that white cotton gauze – never knowing their meaning. But those sounds I know by heart, for they call to me, and they hold my name with dignity and pride. They call to me, but I cannot hear them. Or, I can hear them, but only dumbly, staring, blinded. I forget those sounds, and I feel crippled. I forsake them for new names that I might gesture with, and I feel wounded. The lack at the core is this bleeding, this bleeding everywhere, a bleeding I can’t stop.
I left my breath long ago; I know it well. She stuttered, he went hush, they went round, she went still. She stuttered, she stops dancing. Singing, she stops singing. She goes still, silent, hushhhhh… hidden… hushhhh.. Into the dim, damp, coolness, she… hushhhhhh.. Inside, inside she crawles, where.. hushhhhhhh… she closed her eyes, and goes.. hushhhhhh, hushhh.. shhhhhhh… hush..
...and i’m seeking that cave.
this story is a minefield: a final reflection
There was an experience, a dawning.
The very joy of my work in the Study of Religion – in Buddhist Studies, in Tibetan Studies – has been the discovery of new worlds, as a dawning upon my mind’s horizon, the blossoming of new shades of blue.
The Four Ennobling Truths
1. There is suffering.
2. There is a cause of suffering.
3. There is an end of suffering.
4. There is a path that leads to the end of suffering.
I did not know.
It is as simple as that. I did not know that I suffer.
And not just that, but that I fall – again, and again – into an ocean of suffering.
These waters are deep… take care…
Now, I midwife adults through their English language learning. I watch them expand, and I watch them contract. I hear them flow between the fluency of a familiar tongue, a mouth that moves with ease, to these strange sounds.
It is like a digging up and rooting out, an excavating, maybe even exhuming.
It is like I watch them find caves in their insides, dim, damp, cool.
Shelters welcoming, fit for dwelling.
“Their end is fixed in their beginning, as the flame is bound to the coal.”
So it is said, You do not read Torah. You dive in.
And first you drown.
And then you swim.
Noticing the fluidity of my students within languages is itself meaningful. My students might disagree with me, as I have in their position, that their experience of learning a language is not fluid, but rather disjointed and disorienting. From my perspective, however, the view on the matter is quite different. I watch my students expand and contract, learning a language not as infants (from French in-fans, literally, not able to speak), but as adults. They already have language. They have lived lives. And they arrive in class well-ripened by the world.
My students voice themselves in Kreyol, Portuguese, Nepali, Arabic, Spanish, Russian, French, and yet more. They speak in their first languages with understanding, knowing what they are saying, knowing what they want and mean to say.
And then there’s English.
It is as if there is a site called language, as a valley, a meadow. The wildflowers and edibles that grow there sprout from seeds carried by the wind from other valleys near and far. And I am seeing new growth, new varieties blossoming among my students’ meadows.
Thus, it is not that my students’ English is fluid, polished, immediately. There are just one or two new, blue wildflowers here and there. Not nearly enough for a blue bouquet. But it is as if I am watching my students wandering within, plucking those flowers aimlessly, and yet with great care. This is what I mean by fluidity within languages.
Happy indeed we live,
we who possess nothing.
Feeders on joy we shall be,
like the Radiant Gods.
-Dhammapada v. 200
I left my breath long ago, I know it well.
She stuttered, he went hush, they went round, she went still. She stuttered, she stops dancing. Singing, she stops singing. She goes still, silent, hushhhhh… hidden… hushhhh.. Into the dim, damp, coolness, she… hushhhhhh.. Inside, inside she crawles, where.. hushhhhhh… she closed her eyes, and goes.. hushhhhhh, hushhh.. shhhhhhh… hush..
…and i’m looking for that cave.
gTerma texts sealed in caves.
Prophetic wisdom stored away.
Self manifest in this psychic body.
Prophecy being an encounter:
Self meets Self.
My baby brother. He is sick.
I lost him. Or, he was lost from me.
We lost him upstream.
Or he lost us. Or we let him go.
It’s hard to know.
What I lost once, I lost again AND AGAIN. Though it was already lost and gone, I kept losing it, somehow.
I lost it so often so’s I started losing other things. It’s simple, really.
Who am I when I read Buddhist scriptures?
Why do I read Buddhist scriptures?
Why do I do this work?
“Kindness” by Naomi Shahib Nye / An excerpt:
Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
I am wary of the colonial and imperial roots of my field of work and study.
Sometimes we lose things because they are taken.
Sometimes we lose things through violent force.
So I am wary of appropriation.
I am wary of taking what is not mine, because of my lack and want.
For me, there is no stopping up this lack at the core,
this bleeding, this bleeding everywhere, a bleeding I can’t stop.
These waters are just deep.
And what is gone, is gone,
for what arises, ceases.
But there is life beneath the surface, too.
These waters are living.
And in sunken ships sitting
on the ocean
floor, there are
chests like caves,
filled with treasures.
Just as there are texts like caves
filled with chests.
And this chest is like a cave
filled with texts
like treasures, stories sitting silent,
waiting to be excavated
What is gone, is gone. This chest is like a cave. And this story is like a minefield. Take care, take care!
And so we travel on, thus come and thus gone. There where the flame is fixed in the coal, we who possess nothing wander… this path is a prophetic recovery.
And over many moons I have journeyed from melancholia to nostalgia. And I have passed through many a strange land, picking up and leaving behind what was never mine.
And once, another caravan of travelers – like us – passing through, were speaking hushedly and in excited tones amongst themselves. Though I was drowning in sea-sickness at the time, I had a mind enough to hear them speak of a place not far from here, famed for its healing waters.
They said that where sea and land and sky all meet, one will find a cave, a cave like a cove on a beach. And that place is of such browns and greens and everlasting blues – blues so blue, and of so many hues – and the waters there are deep, and soo sweet... One sip of those waters, one taste, one drop on the tongue, is enough. Or even one drop between the eyes or on the crown of the head, at the nape of the neck, or on both palms.
Just follow this path from nostalgia, they said, it leads you there, there where Self meets…
To repair, recover, and renew those parts of myself that don’t much see the light of day. To journey in good company, the company of friends I have lost and forgotten along the way, or friends I never knew I had, who return me to myself, to my Source. To walk with suffering, all suffering, to not be afraid, but to welcome it with friendliness and evenness of mind. To soften, to deepen, to settle into that Great Listening, Great Mother, that Great Spirit which pervades all, is everywhere at all times, and is all things entirely. To be borne up by the ancestors, the lineage holders, who have carried the traditions on their backs and on their hips and in their hearts. To know that I am no different than all that, that there is just this, just this, and so it is.
Background on the background: I am in a Masters program, treading down the path towards that most magisterial of degree titles: a Master of Divinity (or, Mistress… even Mistrix, which I myself quite like..)! The MDiv is a vocational training program for work in ministry – but in short, I am studying religion with the hopes of going on to teach.
A significant aspect of this degree program is Field Education: a practicum, if you will, providing hands-on-experience in our ministerial training. This past school year I taught English to adult immigrants living in the Boston area for my first round of Field Education. It was a rewarding experience, as we say, and it led to the first reflection (we write reflection papers along the way, contemplating and journaling our Field Education experience) – the insight recorded by this reflection is what ultimately led me back to Ethiopia this summer for my second round of Education in the Field.
The second story elaborates on that insight. Formally, it is the final integrative reflection written for my first unit of Field Education. Accordingly, it draws much more heavily than the former on content from the religious traditions which form the focus of my work and study. For those readers who find some of the terms and concepts in this story unfamiliar, a quick search on the worldwide web should provide useful results.