Still Point was on recess for the month of August. Instead of listening to weekly dharma talks, I have been reading the memoir of a Zen student. I first learned about Natalie Goldberg's new book, The Great Failure, when reading the latest issue of Shambhala Sun at a local Barnes & Noble.
I have known Natalie Goldberg's work for thirteen years. My high school creative writing teacher often referenced her book Writing Down the Bones. I have purchased almost everything she has published since then... Wild Mind, Long Quiet Highway, The Essential Writer's Notebook, Zen Howl... so I was excited when I saw her name on the cover of that issue of Shambhala Sun. Natalie's done it again, I thought.
I read the magazine slowly as I sipped a cold, sweet coffee dessert. There was so much there. As I read, I realized how out of touch I am with the fact that people close to me will die. My father, years after an organ transplant, lives on. His health is like a roller coaster. Sometimes up, sometimes down. But he always bounces back, I tell myself. I don't want to think about looking at him, life expelled, like Natalie has looked at her own father and her teacher.
What a shock it was for me to see my great teacher's stiff body. This was for real? The man I had studied with for twelve years was gone? Stars, moon, hope stopped. Ocean waves and ants froze. Even rocks would not grow. This truth I could not bear. [from "When the Candle is Blown Out" Shambhala Sun, September 2004, page 66]
Here was an article introducing a book on how to practice with your life. I couldn't wait to read it. On a break at work the next week, I searched for the book on Amazon.com. The release date was posted... August 17, 2004. That August afternoon, I stopped at Border's on my way home from work to pick it up. I have been reading it ever since. I'm just starting Part III, and I'm totally enthralled.
You might read the back cover and think, "How juicy... a tell all." Sex, betrayal, family drama, death... almost sounds Shakespearian. I am finding this book juicy, but not for the drama. It is startlingly honest, sincere. It cuts to the heart of what it is like to deal with getting out of bed when we feel that others have let us down, when those close to us die, when broken vows break a spiritual community.
It is also a reminder of life, death and impermanence. We are not promised forever. We just delude ourselves into thinking that forever belongs to us. Reading about Natalie and her teacher, I am reluctant to make any correlation to myself and mine. I am only getting to know my teacher. She is simply not supposed to die yet. It is not time.
Yet it could be. Any moment.