Twenty minutes more or less
“My fiftieth year had come and gone,
I sat, a solitary man,
In a crowded London shop,
An open book and empty cup
On the marble table-top.
While on the shop and street I gazed
My body of a sudden blazed;
And twenty minutes more or less
It seemed, so great my happiness,
That I was blessed and could bless.”
W. B. Yeats (1865-1939), in part IV of his poem “Vacillation” from The Winding Stair and Other Poems, (1933)
This poem for me speaks of being surprised by rapture, when the soul is at ease perhaps, or not, of moments where for no apparent reason, we find ourselves relishing the sweet taste of pure, causeless joy.
The poet is sitting in a crowded London shop, could it like sitting in a coffee shop in our day, alone with our thoughts, thinking of the passage of time. His fiftieth year had come and gone. He was reading a book, it seems, and now he has left the pages to allow his mind to wander, to look around, and to take in the sights of the crowded shop. The open book and the empty cup no longer have much pull, as they rest on the marble table-top.
Then his body of a sudden blazed. His mind is no longer wandering, no longer seemingly melancholic. And his happiness in that moment was so great that religious tones now appear-he felt in his bones that he was blessed and could bless.
Twenty minutes more or less, to me sounds timeless, and a bit playful.
We could read into this all sorts of things, and it doesn’t matter, really, what actually happened. What matters for me is the evocative quality. Of feeling our aliveness break through the slumber of our humdrum days. We sense this in so-called special moments, of noticing a child’s first tooth, or a sunset, a birth or a death.
Meditation turns special moments on their head. For twenty minute so we explore how it is we succumb to the tranquilization of the trivial, the numbness of the mundane. It turns out we don’t need special moments to do this. All moments are seen as special.
For twenty minutes or so we enter the timeless, we take our seat in eternity.
The poet speaks of his body being ablaze. It’s interesting he doesn’t mention his mind. At the beginning of this excerpt he is self-centered, melancholic. For twenty minutes his body comes alive.
Let’s not underestimate the power of our simple practice. We sit, we become aware of sounds, and then we settle the mind into the sensuous, lush undulations of body sensations. We shift from being a witness to our life to living our life moment by moment within the fold of our life. Within the beating, rising and falling heart of experience itself.
For twenty minute more or less we morph into reality itself, bare, bottomless, and beautiful beyond description.
We allow our body to live its life. And it responds by suddenly blazing into life.
The gateway to the blaze of bliss is simply the willingness to feel. To feel the body just as it is, moment by moment. We can call this willingness to feel openness.
This week I spoke a little about openness, with a little help from the dictionary. One definition of to open is to unclose so as to allow passage. Another is to unlock, to remove the covering. Two others which are particularly appropriate for us are to make known what is happening and to burst and discharge, as in an old wound.
Openness is not a goal; rather it’s a relationship to what is happening as its happening. And since what is happening is already happening, there isn’t much room here for accomplishments, effort or special feats.
I feel we could summarize the whole spiritual path with the acronym O.I. A. – openness, intimacy and acceptance. In the next two weeks I would like to explore with you the remaining two aspects of intimacy and acceptance.
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You have touched on the intimacy of meditation. After 20 years of sitting, I still find myself amusing. The moments Yeats refer to in the poem is common to my experience and I have wondered I am weird. It is so difficult to capture that ah ha, or wow or Hmm moment. Thanks for stabbing into the marrow of this experience.
Thanksso much. It is always nice to hear from folks out there. I will check out your blog…I write mostly becasue it helps me sort things out inmy mind, and I am always surprised when someone comes across this stuff. Take care, and happy Dharma trails. Tom