There’s a poem by William Stafford called “The Way It Is” that we share in class sometimes:
There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.
I think that part of our essential work during this time of the pandemic may be to take a fresh look at what that thread is for each of us. How does it feel? How did you find it? What’s it like when you do let go of the thread? How does it feel when you find it, and take hold once again?
This morning I’m thinking about what the thread is. For me, I would describe one important thread as the imaginative dimension of human life we call religious or spiritual. Others might see it as X or Y or Z. And that’s the beauty of poetry: an invitation into a world and perspective that each of us interprets and can make our own.
I stumbled into Buddhism – one of my threads – as a young man, not knowing why I was drawn to the austere quiet spaces where Zen meditation is practiced; not knowing why something seemed important in the writings of Zen teachers which I couldn’t really understand. I carried the book Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind around in my backpack as I practiced my other important spiritual practice at the time: hiking in the mountains. Every time I read one of the short chapters in that book while sitting on a rock under the trees, I was both baffled and inspired. I couldn’t really follow what the author, Shunryu Suzuki, was saying and yet I ended each reading feeling inspired and expansive.
Now I realize that Zen Buddhism and exploring in the wilderness were my way of finding the thread.
What is the thread for you? Can you put your finger on it? How does it feel? How did you find it? What’s it like when you do let go of the thread? How does it feel when you find it, and take hold once again?
There are so many possibilities. We humans with our hearts and minds are so rich, so complex. What is the thread? Time with good friends? Great literature or shows? Cooking? Playing or listening to music? Time in nature? Refocusing your love for your family?
One of the things I appreciate about Stafford’s poem is he reminds us that it’s not enough that these things exist – as possibilities – it’s on us to find that thread and hold on through thick and thin. “Nothing you can do can stop time’s unfolding / You don’t ever let go of the thread.”
If it’s helpful to you to explore this idea more fully, I’m hosting a new by-donation hour of mindfulness every Wednesday at 12 noon, Pacific Time, called Midday Mindfulness. I’ll enjoy seeing you there if you can come. I’ve also been offering retreats in format of our universal, non-religious mindfulness offerings, that include teachings on what I consider the Buddhist roots of our mindfulness and compassion trainings. More threads! You can see and listen to the growing catalog of lectures on our RESOURCES page.
Here’s another short poem from William Stafford which I hope you’ll appreciate.
William Stafford – Yes
It could happen any time, tornado,
earthquake, Armageddon. It could happen.
Or sunshine, love, salvation.
It could you know. That’s why we wake
and look out–no guarantees
in this life.
But some bonuses, like morning,
like right now, like noon,
Wishing you well,