Friday, June 8, 2012

To be intimate

Namaste Dagoba, Xia'an, China

Deepen intimacy with self and others

Please cherish your skin, flesh, bones, and marrow,
Knowing each other, intimate friends become even more intimate.
When someone asks the meaning of coming from the west,
[Bodhidharma] faces the wall for nine years,
Abiding at Shaolin.

—Dōgen, Eihei Kōroku
Leighton & Okumra, Wisdom Publications 2004, p. 313

What does it mean to be intimate?

The Latin roots of the words mean to impress upon, to make known, or, in addition... to eat something. 
Another interpretation is "close friend." 

So being intimate means, on the one hand, to take in impressions, to consume them as food; to gain understanding through an action of ingesting life. On the other hand, it means to be close to one’s self, but not just to be close; it means to be one’s own friend, to have the qualities of friendship in relation to one’s own being.

This idea of the quality of friendship in relation to one’s own being may seem odd, yet I believe we have a rather impoverished experience of this. All the self help books in the world, for example, do little for the truly desperate to improve or bolster their self-image; emotional deficits create chasms in a soul that cannot be backfilled with intellectual material, no matter how much is shoveled in. And simply knowing that we ought to value the self, to nuture the self, is not enough. We ought to know how to value and nuture the self; and we don’t. We aren’t close enough to this idea of friendship, of intimacy, because the vital energies that ought to flow in us, the ”Qi” we need in order to be, is dormant.

To begin with, we ought to befriend ourselves in a quite ordinary way, with a generosity and a quality of forgiveness. Can we start there? Perhaps. It can’t hurt.  Rather than being our own taskmaster—the role we all usually assign ourselves—perhaps we can become our own assistant. This is a different role, and I believe we would all rather have a helper than a man with a whip standing over them. Wouldn’t we?

At the same time, to know the self we need to begin in a place that is rooted at the foundation of being. What does not start there has no chance of going anywhere serious. And this rootedness cannot be discovered without a willingness to question, to question over and over again, who we are and what we are, and why we are. This sense of intimacy, which might lead us to an inner light, is born in darkness and in secret. We can’t find it in books, or perhaps even through prayer; not prayer as we conventionally know it, anyway. 

In calling us to do the impossible, Jeanne de Salzmann calls us to what might be called impossible prayer; a prayer to the unknown, asking for the unknown. And it’s this exact quality of unknowingness that requires us to pray in question, and to hold this question in front of even our questioning itself. To pray, in other words, only with the aim of understanding what it means to pray... because if we admit it to ourselves, we don’t even know this.

We are trying to ingest something about our being; to eat ourselves, to allow what we experience as ourselves to become a kind of food. Is is a quite physical action, not an act of psychology; and yet it is a foreigner, a stranger, because we can’t conceive of food for the soul as anything but psychological. 

The idea that our daily bread might be bread we must knead, bake, and eat ourselves; the idea that sacred action begins with intimacy; this idea is a different one, located at a different point of understanding than our conventions of heaven, hell, and everything that lies in between.

I respectfully hope you will take good care.