Playing in the lot behind the house one day when he was still a little boy, Neruda discovered a hole in a fence board. "I looked through the hole and saw a landscape like that behind our house, uncared for, and wild. I moved back a few steps, because I sensed vaguely that something was about to happen. All of a sudden a hand appeared---a tiny hand of a boy about my own age. By the time I came close again, the hand was gone, and in its place there was a marvellous white toy sheep.
"The sheep's wool was faded. Its wheels had escaped. All of this only made it more authentic. I had never seen such a wonderful sheep. I looked back through the hole but the boy had disappeared. I went in the house and brought out a measure of my own: a pine cone, opened, full of odor and resin, which I adored. I set it down in the same spot and went off with the sheep.
"I never saw either the hand or the boy again. And I have never seen a sheep like that either. The toy I lost finally in a fire. But even now...whenever I pass a toyshop, I look furtively into the window. It's no use. They don't make sheep like that anymore."
Neruda has commented on this incident several times. "This exchange of gifts---mysterious---settled deep inside me like a sedimentary deposit," he once remarked in an interview. And he associates the exchange with his poetry. "I have been a lucky man. To feel the intimacy of brothers is a marvellous thing in life. To feel the love of people whom we love is a fire that feeds our life. But to feel the affection that come from those whom we do not know, from those unknown to us, who are watching over our sleep and solitude, over our dangers and our weaknesses---that is something still greater and more beautiful because it widens out the boundaries of our being, and unites all living things.
"That exchange brought home to me for the first time a precious idea: that all humanity is somehow together...It won't surprise you then that I have attempted to give something resiny, earthlike, and fragrant in exchange for human brotherhood...
"This is the great lesson I learned in my childhood, in the backyard of a lonely house. Maybe it was nothing but a game two boys played who didn't know each other and wanted to pass to the other some good things of life. Yet maybe this small and mysterious exchange of gifts remained inside me also, deep and indestructible, giving my poetry light."
--Lewis Hyde, from "The Gift"
SEED QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: What do you understand by widening out the boundaries of our being? Can you share a story of how you discovered the unity of all living things in your own life? What gives light to your poetry?
It was toward the end of a trip in Vancouver, B.C. I had spent much of the night vomiting, either from food poisoning or alcohol. After finally falling asleep I had to reject a would be lover who crawled into my bed. The next morning was rough: hung-over, friends were already gone; I just had to kill time before I caught my flight in the late afternoon. So there I was walking street corridored by tall, brick buildings, with a headache, hungry but queesy, thirsty but nothing seemed palatable, and in that moment, when it would seem likely that my little sufferings would pen me in, suddenly I saw all passersby as kin--fellow brothers and sisters with their own sufferings. I felt immense love for them and a calm, durable belonging.
What a beautiful childhood story. It's amazing how the humble pure-heartedness of the offering is something that has stayed in Neruda's heart for years. In my own life, I have similarly found that the gifts that come through the darkness and through the small holes in the walls that I have built up in myself are the ones that expand my sense of self and remind me time and time again of the profound inter-relatedness of all things. A week or two ago, I was feeling rather hopeless and upset at myself, as the anxiety and anger that I thought had waned over the past few years in which I have been meditating, had suddenly resurfaced, and as strong as ever. As hopeless as I felt, deep down, I wished for a sweet offering to come my way so that I could regain my energy and resolve to purify my anxiety and anger into something more positive. Wishing, wishing, and nothing was happening. Then I switched it around and thought, "What if I were to make a sweet offering? Or pay more attention to the sweetness that already exists?" And so I did, in the smallest of ways, like starting a friendly conversation with a stranger in the elevator at work. And seeing the goodness in the eyes of the people enveloping me in the subway at rush hour. Or even smiling at a furry brown dog happily trotting down the sidewalk on my way to the grocery store. I'm not sure how it works but I felt like the poetry of smiles, friendly hellos, and good wishes exchanged from the heart somehow opened me up to a renewed sense of possibility. I felt like we're all in this together, and that everyone and everything that responded or gifted me with something helped me to soften and feel steadier in the flow of things.[Hide Full Comment]
We had a chicken house, with a low roof. One day I climbed up on the roof, laid down at the peak and rolled with my eyes closed. There was this thrilling moment when the roof ended and I sailed into the air.... then the prickly bush caught me by surprise. What did I learn that impacts my writing? The thrill of openings, and something about gravity....
One of my blessings is working with animals. Several days a week I walk two dogs for a Dr. who works long hours. As soon as I approach the house they get behind the floor length shade to see me and start barking in anticipation and excitement. They never fail to make me smile or laugh at their antics. Even though our communication is wordless, it's heart to heart, eye to eye, soul to soul. Then I leave a brief note for the Dr. telling about her pets antics and leave the house knowing that the recount may refresh her and make her smile at the end of a long day.
I imagine each of upon reflection can think of an experience where we connected with a stranger in some way that changed us.
I recall a very brief encounter with a young, shy man on a bus, this was nearly 50 years ago, who made me realize there was more possibility in me than labels applied by those who have always known me. He made me realize that each new meeting is a new beginning and I have the option to bring a different me, a better me, into the relationship, whether it is a relationship for seconds or for years. That young shy man, who I never saw again, travels with me everywhere I go. I have never forgotten him. He changed me for the better.
I can't help but wonder if somewhere, I travel with someone in this way; that an encounter I have long forgotten was actually a pivotal moment for someone. I do hope so.
We are boundaryless divine creatures who are socialized into living with boundaries as we grow. Children play effortlessly with other children but adults hesitate, judge, assess, fear, and associate with selected few. If we can stay connected to our inner child, we can stay connected to all, and wonder at the vastness of the universe that we are all a part of. A number of struggles in my life have come from being told that I don't get the concept of boundaries, but all the joys have always come from being infinitely bundaryless too, so I keep unravelling and enjoying it all.
Undoubtedly receiving that unexpected gift from an unknown other was one of those special experiences that was unforgettable and life-changing. It was a symbolic experience. My understanding of an experience that widens out the boundaries of our being is just that -- it stretches our boundaries such that we see self and others and all that is differently. It broadens and deepens us as persons. I discovered the unity of all living things by way of respected others who were beyond me in their awareness and made comments like "look across the room and see yourself." Their awareness widened my boundaries which resulted in my awareness, vision, and life changing. Such awareness sheds light on my living (poetry) and makes my living lighter, which gifts I treasure.
Excellent writing. My understanding of widening the boundaries of our being is that we are all mysteriously one and much more interconnected than disconnected. I have no one story of how I have discovered the unity of all the things in my life. All that I have read and experienced leads me to strongly believe that I am one not only with all people and all sentient beings but also with all non-sentient things. Paradoxically my lack of knowing which is my noticing incomprehensible mystery surrounding me much of the time gives light to my being. This incomprehensible mystery could be seen as darkness, but it could also be seen as all light all the time. My not knowing is something I have moved to feel very comfortable about. It helps me see myself as not separate from everyone and everything. I believe I know very little and I am comfortable seeing myself as no one going nowhere even though I'm saying these sentences now. I have noticed a strong feeling of community with many who respond to the Awakin weekly messages. It is a feeling of communion which I did not get when I received "holy communion" when I formerly was a Catholic. I have copied statements from several people who have responded to Awakin statements and have used their quotes in my writing. Thanks to all of you for being so wonderful. Warm and kind regards to everyone.
We see what we look for and I tend to seek out connections from one to another. So, I experience the "unity of all living things" almost daily. I believe when we open our hearts and share our talents and gifts freely we create a unity. This can be achieved through actions small and large. Small = Free Hugs offered to homeless and to Strangers on street corners. Or it can be in a larger sense as we take what some may call a risk and share our skill set without monetary compensation. I was recently in Ghana where I donated literacy workshops for librarians and interviewed local "ordinary" citizens doing extraordinary things like creating their own think tanks to collaborate on bringing ideas to fruition. Everywhere I went I was taken care of. Librarians housed me and fed me, I couch surfed in the living room of a small apartment on a dusty road in Kumasi with a husband, wife and their nearly 4 year old daughter aptly named Praise; we cooked together, they made sure I knew Exactly where I was going each day and often would accompany me to the local transportation. Once on the local transport, strangers made sure I knew which stop was the right one and once, a passenger even alighted with me and took me by the hand to be sure I arrived safely. And then there were the children; everywhere I went, I heard them shouting out to me, "Obruni, Hello! How are you? I am fine!" then they dissolved into giggles. Sometimes they ran up to me and touched my skin. Always smiling. Always welcoming. And asking for Nothing in return. And it's not only with people. there was a stray cat outside the apartment in Kumasi. Whenever Hannah cooked, she tossed it scraps from the fish, bits of vegetable and the cat purred and knew it found a friend. Loving Kindness gives light to my poetry. and HUGS do too.[Hide Full Comment]