6-13-2020 Dharma Talk by Jane Schneider
About 20 some years ago I painted a picture called, “Blest by Everything.” It was my interpretation of the last paragraph of a poem by William Butler Yeats called, “Dialogue of Self and Soul.” It’s the last paragraph of the dialogue and the Self is speaking. I think the words express a meditative mind such as we cultivate in zazen. On the cushion, while watching our breath and observing emotional and mental changes we relive many moments of our lives again, sorting through every mistake, every ignorance and confusion we have lived. On the cushion in slow motion we sit through it all, having the time to look and carefully study our past and present actions of body, speech and mind. I especially like the last paragraph that sums up the reflections of the Self.
“I am content to follow to its source
Every event in action or in thought;
Measure the lot; forgive myself the lot!
When such as I cast out remorse
So great a sweetness flows into the breast
We must laugh and we must sing,
We are blest by everything,
Everything we look upon is blest.”
In the poem he seems to say that he’s willing to go inward and study everything that has made him who he has become and forgive himself all of it. He’s willing to live his life again, with all the ignorant actions, the suffering caused for himself and others, his youthful obliviousness, all the mistakes and is ready to face it all again.
“Measure the lot, forgive myself the lot, When such as I cast out remorse So great a sweetness flows into the breast We must laugh and we must sing,..”
It reminds me of sayings like, “The right place at the right time,” or, “Everyday is a good day.” There’s a willingness expressed to just be and work with reality as one finds it. That’s not so easy to do if we think we have all the answers to questions before they even appear. ‘The right place at the right time’ is the ability to let go of defensive habits and the delusion of ‘knowing,’ and in the midst of such vulnerability, to meet experiences directly and act according to ‘right action’ in the moment. This can happen anywhere, like at home, in the zendo, on the street or at work. If these experiences are looked on as learning experiences, then ‘everyday is a good day.’
In the poem by Yeats, ‘everything we look upon is blest’ seems like an unrealistic point of view, with violence, suffering and cruel acts happening everywhere. Yeats also lived in a time of unrest in Northern Ireland and was no stranger to trouble. This poem was written later in his life and is touching because of the juxtaposition of the times and his insight. ‘Blest by everything’ doesn’t mean only wonderful things happening if we see them, or ’good or bad things happening, and we can ignore the bad and latch on to the good.’ Blest by everything means a mind of equanimity and non-discrimination. Whatever circumstances we meet and how we respond determines whether we’re in the ‘right place or the wrong place, the right time or the wrong time.’ If we’re open and willing to learn, then we’re always in the right place at the right time,’ and ‘everything we look upon is blest.’ Into dark unhappy places with such a mind we can bring composure, peaceful intentions and compassion.
Composure may seem too detached, but composure is not the enemy of emotions, and emotions are not incompatible with a calm mind. If you study yourself before and after meditation, you’ll probably see that after you settle down, your emotions are freer and lighter. Your ability to laugh is easier than before. These are some of the fruits of developing composure. When composure is not present, laughter and emotions can be a little too much or not at all.
In the poem, “we must laugh and we must sing, we are blest by everything,” the words express a joyful mind and heart. A ‘joyful mind’ expresses calmness, self-possession and equanimity’ A joyful mind is tranquil at the center with movement surrounding it. An excitable heart doesn’t have a still center and motion is everywhere with no tranquillity. ’Joyful’ doesn’t mean to laugh at individual things, because some things are not laughable. But we can move through dark moments with a joyful mind, which helps us to pass through them without being corrupted by negativity.
Our very insides may be gripped by the madness of the moment, or the anguish of loss and suffering, but a joyful mind will bear it all without being crushed, because a joyful mind rests safely on a true, indescribably, vast nature, one’s ever-present buddha-nature. A peaceful mind rests on the peaceful ground that is oneself.