I Don’t Want My Dukkha Here

This story might be easier to write, might be simpler to read and digest, had I been writing all along about our experience living for a year in France. Had I written about the early stages of discovery, about the long settling into a different sort of Zen life (as I referred to it in my mind), then giving words to my current state might come more naturally.

But these last few days—with only weeks left before we leave what has become our home—have been filled with a question.

When does discovery become death?

We went for a hike as a family today, up a steep trail in the forest behind the town of Yzeron. The shade of the trees was welcome on this humid day. The kids gathered sticks to walk with, and Jessica and I pointed out flowers along the path. We came through clearings that held a sense of energy and mystery, and into a field of wheat that sloped down into the farthest distance, our home somewhere in between where we stood and the impossibly far-off horizon.

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I yearned for a feeling of wonder and newness, and it seemed to be just within reach—yet was somehow wrapped in discontent. Instead of the sense of discovery I expected, there was the death of a sense of ease, an intruding sadness of a bitter goodbye.

Is this another experience of the home-leaving practice of Zen?

If it is, I don’t care for it.

It’s quite different than leaving for retreat. But then, of course, I always had the sense I would be coming back. In what way was I truly leaving? Was I—in the Zen sense—having my cake and eating, too?

When we first arrived in France, everything was new. The town, our home, the language, the kids’ school, the bus routes into the city. The light, the birdsong, the scents in the air. Each morning’s run was a new discovery, each visit to the marché, each conversation was an exploration. Each season was a chance to wonder what it would bring in this new home of ours.

After a time, of course, things became familiar—but the sense of discovery persisted in the act of settling. We were becoming part of a new fabric, and a simpler (if not always simple, being so far from what was familiar) life than what we had left aided the sense of discovery even after novelty receded from the surface. For most of eleven months, this carried me and contended me.

And then, recently, almost suddenly, it has changed. Things don’t feel as they should. Encountering a new place or a new word or tradition or story feels not like discovery, but like loss, becoming sadness at what we must soon leave behind. The same experience, instead of being embodied with a sense of discovery, feels somehow diminished. Somehow thinner.

Why should a sense of losing something diminish my ability to revel in its discovery?

I can hear the words of my teachers, those alive and from centuries of lineage. There are no shoulds, especially in how we feel. And this sense of loss, this discomforting, is no surprise. This is the life of a human being and the suffering that comes with change. This is dukkha. I try to let it come. I can’t change it, after all.

But still. I don’t want my dukkha here.

After our walk, we came home and planted flowers in the small raised beds, the ones up against the stone wall with terra-cotta shingles. We pulled weeds from the ground around the beds and smoothed the gravel.

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ten

it was a purple one that first caught his eye
as we walked through the field—
perhaps some sort of clover,
but i don’t know the name in french.
papa, he showed me,
adding the smallest white daisies
and a few others i don’t recognize—
a tall thin grass, and
even dandelions, too.

they might not last the car ride home,
but they’ve once been collected,
spilling gently over the edge
of the vase he made of his hand.

My first post here in more than eighteen months. I think the moments have still been with me. Perhaps I’ve been better at not becoming attached—or perhaps I’ve been neglecting to pay attention.

Rudbeckia

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the rudbeckia aren’t usually still in bloom,
so close to my birthday,
and even these are brittle –
but in the patch near the small gravel pile,
perhaps sheltered by the overgrown viburnum,

a few stragglers remain.

if I’d noticed them last year I might have arranged
one more vase
and placed it by her bedside,
so she could have turned her head
and thought to herself,
how I love those black-eyed susans.

 

Square with Rounded Corners

The picture of the two of us,
pulled from my suit-coat pocket,
leans on my dresser.

Square with rounded corners,
faded blue ink–
Kodak May 1980–
printed on the back.

I scanned it for my lock screen, too,
so I can see myself
leaning up against her in the slanted spring light.

The first few days after
Mom taught me how to die
were simpler–

but when I walk outside,
leaves are turning,
afternoons are darker now.

I Peel an Orange

Our home is a pale shade of blue,
one you might find looking west in the spring
minutes after sunrise,
or in a robin’s egg whose green tints
have been replaced by gentle grays.

It was once a deep red,
more readily apparent in recent years
from the street-facing, sun-bleached southern side,
where spots of peeling and chipping have grown
past neighborly size,

reflecting the same inertia
that has kept me from replacing
the almost imperceptibly dripping basement pipe.

I peel an orange –
the fruit itself is disappointing and dry;

my son pushes the lawnmower
back and forth across the lawn,
glancing to me each time he makes a turn.

It’s the first time I’ve stood back so far.