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sunday poem

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Feeling deeply appreciated and nourished by the comments to my previous post, I dip into The poetry of Zen* —

Whatever it is,
I cannot understand it,
although gratitude
stubbornly overcomes me
until I’m reduced to tears.

* by Saigyō Hōshi (西行 法師, 1118–1190) in Hamill, S., & Seaton, J. P. (2007). (trans.). Boston: Shambhala, p. 112. image: “Old Man Weeping” after Van Gogh by Gordon Christie when he was still a teenager.


ok to weep during meditation?

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The other night I stood outside the zendo, ready to gesture arrivals towards places to park along the street. At one point I stepped into path of an oncoming vehicle, assuming that I knew the driver. Later she explained by email, “I was all set to come to meditation … but felt so teary that I didn’t make it. I got as far as driving to your house and almost ran you over on the street  – sorry. I felt too distressed to come in.”

I remember many a sesshin (weeklong Zen retreat) when I sat sobbing on my cushion. The rule at my first training monastery was “don’t sniffle. no blowing noses. let it flow!” Sitting still alongside others, allowing the body to calm and thoughts and emotions come and go, often brought me to tears. A thousand sadness from deep within, with no one coming to make it all better. Then a bell and another round of … bowing … chanting … sitting … shovelling snow …

When I first opened my house for others to meditate (about eight years ago, then on Galiano Island), I once complained to my teacher that people would come once or twice, then vanish. Is there anything I should do (differently) I asked? “Just be there as advertised,” he replied, “unlock the door, straighten the cushions, light incense, and sit. People will come when they need to — when their suffering takes them there.”

And so I’ve been sitting ever since. May all beings be free from tears and pain.


more tears

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The topic of weeping, particularly in public (see Saturday’s post) yielded a bounty of responses. Thank you all for writing. You opened me to weeping beyond personal fear and sadness — to those of (for lack of better terms) universal grief, spiritual opening, and spontaneous heart connection.*

I can think of two circumstances that invariable bring me to tears — tears I have no wish to suppress or hide; tears whose source or cause is mysterious. Give me a solemn event anytime: anything to do with laying of wreaths at a war memorial, burial at sea, or flag-draped coffins. Another certainty is holy communion (in Roman Catholic but, surprisingly, not in Anglican churches), when tears arise as I approach the altar and turn to weeping as the bread and wine enter my body. What’s that about? 

Working in end-of-life care has opened me to new ways of weeping — not from personal loss but from an opening of the heart in the presence of someone at their most vulnerable. Similarly, when offering support to people tackling personal loss, I’m able to enter their private space with ease, able to share (and even initiate) tears in lieu of words that cannot be spoken.

“The way to peace is to cry a cornucopia of tears.”
Sri Anandamayi Ma (1896-1981), Indian mystic.

* See article on transformative weeping, described as “signs not of disintegration, but of integration of the psyche and expanded awareness of the deeper and universal realities of human existence.” image: