by Donna Quesada: How Does Presence Heal?
The idea, of presence doesn’t heal… and can’t. Because as an idea, it’s just one more thing to work on. One more thing to master and inevitably, get wrong. And so, it becomes another project, another item on the list: Meditate for 15m…
But on this day, as I was taking my early morning walk with the dogs, grey clouds were stretched across the new spring sky. The first sunbeams of the day were searching out any cracks they could find. I gazed up at all of this, while the dogs were sniffing around.
The welcome contrast of a cloudy morning in the middle of what is usually a dry month in LA, took my thoughts back to the summers spent with my Italian grandmother “Louise,” in Las Vegas. I remember going with grandma to the market very early, on many mornings, just to “beat the heat.”
But one morning, we were lazing about as a sweet rain cleansed away the heat. The coolness that stood in, on that day, awakened new scents and sounds. The strangely pleasant smell of wet asphalt filled the room where we were lying together. And the sound of chirping… “It sounds close!” … “Must be very close!”
So, I leaned over the side of the bed, stretching the upper part of my nimble, 12-year old body down to investigate. Peering into the darkness under the bed, something jumped right up at me, grazing my cheek. I yelled out and in a lightening flash, jolted back up again. It was a cricket! We laughed and couldn’t stop laughing. We laughed at my silliness and at the surprise of the moment. We laughed at the delight of it all. And at nothing in particular. And then we laughed some more.
I stood under a giant ficus tree, lost in this memory of my grandma and the cricket on that rainy day, when a large drop landed on my forehead. It startled me back to this moment. Like a cosmic reminder, a mute meditation bell, a dramatic call to nothing at all, it silenced the busy-ness of my mind, and made room for the bounty in front of me. My dogs continued to sniff every blade of grass because each one revealed the most delicious aroma they had ever beheld.
The Day My Grandma Went To The Moon—
It’s been 17 years this month since she departed. I remember the day… We happened to be in an Italian restaurant watching Johnny Recine sing Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin songs. At the very moment we received the news, he was singing the song grandma always sang in the kitchen… when the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie…
If only I could describe Louise’s spirit… if only you could see the joy in her eyes as she danced to old Italian songs, while making manicotti. If only I could impress upon you how this jovial, full-of-life, but tough-as-nails woman was always ready to get silly and laugh. And how protected and loved she made me feel.
But, rather than try to describe my memories in words, I will share them through haiku… little snapshots of time. Proustian moments in a very un-proustian format. That’s what a haiku does. Conveying Zen’s emphasis on the impermanence of life, it sees every precious moment as it is, fleeting and ephemeral.
And because it’s fleeting, it’s gone before you can say what it is, for once you’ve said what it is, it has already changed. And so, words get eschewed altogether. This is why Zen is silent. And the haiku, inspired by Zen, seeks to say without saying. After all, that which is left unsaid is often more powerful than words could ever be.
But the most important aspect of the haiku is its emphasis on presence. Because life is transient, every moment is all the more precious. In this “snapshot,” time is always here and now. There is no other time or place in which to be. Nothing else exists.
But if we stay shy of words, we must also shun thoughts too. Because thoughts are just words inside our head. And all the better, since our head, according to Zen, is the source of all our pain… the source of all the ups and downs, the stories about the ups and downs, the fears about the ups and downs… the ups and downs that once were, and the ups and downs that may happen again.
The Big Fear Is also a Story—
But all fear camouflages the one big fear… the fear of death. Whatever that is. Because death is really just another story… an abstract concept. We are… some of us… dead while technically alive. So, it’s the death of what? Our spirit? Our will? Our creativity? Our memory? Our mind? Our body? What part of our mind? What part of our body? It’s all arbitrary in some sense. The line between life and death blurs, as when you look out the window on a rainy day and everything is smeared and you can’t tell where the “real” tree begins and ends. There’s no life, no death. No this no, that. No me, no you. Just THIS.
And the minute we try to say what it is, it’s gone. It’s all just stories in our heads. So, the answer lies in dropping the stories. No words at all. And just like that, even the “problem” of death is solved! While suffering at large dissipates, since there is nothing more to fear.
That’s why in Zen, “salvation” is nothing more than ceasing to think. And that’s why any good Zen master will continue to tell you to get out of your head! in a thousand different ways. Just be here, now.
So, on this anniversary of Louise’s “death,” rather than tell more stories, I present to you these haiku that I wrote for her, after her departure… of sorts.
Haiku for My Italian Grandma—
Under the sun
In her muumuu
She returns with bowl
Cinnamon and eggs
French toast frying
Wafting down the hall
Dusty smell of suitcases
Playing dress up
Drops cocktail onion
For crippled husband
Finding shapes in ceiling
Grandpa in garage
Carving my wooden rooster
Poking many holes
Frying Italian donuts
Peeking under bed
Squeezing my hand
Crossing street together
So close and safe
My Easter outfit
Pink and purple plaid
Her proudest smile
Plate of spaghetti
Finding sauce on her shirt
Big round arms
Crochet hooks clicking
Mumbles to herself
Brushing hair for bingo
Old lady smell