The Dakini Speaks
© Jennifer Welwood
My friends, let’s grow up.
Let’s stop pretending we don’t know the deal here.
Or if we truly haven’t noticed, let’s wake up and notice.
Look: Everything that can be lost, will be lost.
It’s simple — how could we have missed it for so long?
Let’s grieve our losses fully, like ripe human beings,
But please, let’s not be so shocked by them.
Let’s not act so betrayed,
As though life had broken her secret promise to us.
Impermanence is life’s only promise to us,
And she keeps it with ruthless impeccability.
To a child she seems cruel, but she is only wild,
And her compassion exquisitely precise:
Brilliantly penetrating, luminous with truth,
She strips away the unreal to show us the real.
This is the true ride — let’s give ourselves to it!
Let’s stop making deals for a safe passage:
There isn’t one anyway, and the cost is too high.
We are not children anymore.
The true human adult gives everything for what cannot be lost.
Let’s dance the wild dance of no hope!
When I first heard this poem some years ago, it sounded bleak. Dance the wild dance of no hope? With a passion for beauty, creativity, singing, dancing, and music, I simply could not relate. I also couldn’t resolve the spiritual and creative parts of me that sometimes felt as odds with one another. Dhamma retreats that involved sitting, walking meditation, then more sitting and walking mediation for hours and days on end felt dry, as if something were missing. (Maybe this is why I insist on writing, sometimes singing and dancing on silent retreats when no one is looking or listening.)
Now, change and uncertainty have taken center stage. The Dakini speaks, and I am listening. Have I truly missed the deal here? I’m starting to wake up and notice. For me, uncertainty is so unsettling because of my patterns of control. Though I’ve told others this pandemic is not a sprint, but a marathon, I find myself at many imaginary finish lines hoping the race is over.
I want to travel, eat at my favorite restaurants, go on retreat, get together with family and friends, see patients in person, have my hair cut and colored, and not virtually! And I recognize these are minor inconveniences to have, as many others are suffering in real and devastating ways.
So how can I not act so shocked and grieve certain losses fully like a ripe human being? It helps to acknowledge these “losses” with honesty, without spiritually bypassing the true feelings of impatience, anger, sadness, fear, and overwhelm that may be present. The ripeness includes a clear, wise mind asking, “What’s happening now?” and a spacious, compassionate heart asking, “How am I relating to this?”
It’s important for me to remember that this practice is not perfect. Judgements and resistance still arise. All my habitual patterns of control (blaming others, blaming myself, food and retail therapy, meticulously cleaning, strategically planning) are implemented one after the other in the name of protecting the self. And so many things influence the fight-flight-freeze reaction and the tend and befriend response: physical, emotional, economic stability, practice history, etc.
Most days, I find that I am somewhere in between both physiologic processes. A quivering belly, rapid heart rate, and tense muscles are met with earth connection, warm breath, and fluid understanding of not acting so betrayed. Impermanence is life’s only promise, so what COVID-19 is teaching me is not new. I was just in denial.
Just as Toto pulled back the curtain to the great Wizard of Oz revealing an ordinary man, can I strip away the unreal and live with the real, giving myself completely to this one true ride? I’m tired of making deals for a safe passage. If there isn’t one, and the cost is too high, what does it mean to dance the wild dance of no hope? If there is no ground, what can I stand with, stand for?
I don’t have perfect, complete answers to these questions. Like many of you reading this, I’m still sensing my way into ‘answers’, trying to be as patient, honest, compassionate, and open as I can be along the way. Two words, concepts arising in meditation and life practice over the last few days are wholeness and goodness. Despite feeling broken, imperfect, and disconnected at times, I recognize that my purpose as a physician, meditation/movement practitioner, parent, and writer is not to cure everyone, but tap into an energy of healing that happens whenever the heart-mind is truly present and listening. And goodness isn’t a Pollyannish ignorance of the severe and overwhelming destruction caused by this pandemic, but stories of care I’m seeing, experiencing, and hearing about each day.
If impermanence is life’s only promise, then let my response be wholeness, goodness, and care, knowing that it is imperfect. What will your response be?
As you sit, stand, walk, and lie down with this ground of uncertainty, what is still true for you? The Buddha said, “Hatred does not cease by hatred, but only by love; this is the eternal rule.” May you connect with what is still true for you. May this guide you, support you, nourish you in the days and weeks to come.
(This post was inspired by Sebene Selassie, Sharon Salzberg, and Vesak.)