Miracle du jour…

May 13, 2009 by  
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There is a myth-like metaphor in the Buddhist tradition that describes the impossibly rare set of conditions that are necessary for the universe to hatch a human being into existence. It describes a turtle swimming in a vast ocean, a ring floating somewhere on the surface, and the unlikely encounter between the two as the turtle comes up at the exact spot where the ring is floating overhead like a halo. The odds of such an event, this metaphor implies, are indistinguishable from zero. Yet here we are, having landed in our own little patch of reality for a while.

It’s trite to say life is a miracle – the trees, the birds, the sky etc. – it’s a sentiment that’s difficult to reconcile with the daily grind of experience, a notion that’s at odds with  common awareness. Nevertheless, when my 80-year-old mother starts beating this drum as sternly as if she were doling out a piece of marital advice, it is affecting. Her plain as day conviction on the matter allows me to peek through her looking glass – if only for a glimpse. Paradoxically, it’s often some news story about the latest war or atrocity that sets her off and elicits this sort of testimonial. In part it’s a lament on the chronic human condition that obscures a truth that seems so apparent to her.

Her experiences as a child during WWII have left deep marks into which the seeds of this vision have fallen and ripened over a long life. The immense contrast between the carnage that engulfed her life during these years, and the experience of the world in more peaceful times, has left her with an unrelenting appreciation for the extraordinary quality of ordinary life.

Thich Nhat Hanh’s is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk who has also endured the destructive forces of war as a young man. In his own spiritual teaching he often returns to the theme of the ordinary miracle. His poetic voice has expressed this in many ways: the real miracle, he says, is not to walk on water, but to walk on the earth. He seems to be saying that all human beings, not just the revered and mythologized saints of history, are full participants in the miracle of being. That includes beings as mundane as me & you.

Thich Nhat Hanh has also said that a flower can only emerge from the dirt that fertilizes its being. Perhaps there is something about the encounter with the most destructive human potentialities that allows certain people to develop an uncommonly deep appreciation of life. Such difficult growing conditions become the soil in which an enviable vision of the world may germinate and blossom – in all the glory, and with all conviction of a staunch German housefrau, or a Buddhist master.

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