Enlightenment for Ordinary People
I was looking for Jane Hirshfield's thoughts on tenderness in her book Nine Gates. I was in particular need of this poem:
by Jane Hirshfield
Tenderness does not choose its own uses.
It goes out to everything equally,
circling rabbit and hawk.
Look: in the iron bucket,
a single nail, a single ruby –
all the heavens and hells.
They rattle in the heart and make one sound.
Hirshfield quotes Galway Kinnell: “The secret title of every good poem might be ‘Tenderness.’”
She says, “these words too are free of rank – for the writer to write at all, he or she must cultivate a heart that opens in tenderness to all things.” And, “A ruby is no more valuable than a nail; the sound of one in a shaken metal bucket is no different from the other. Both will be needed, if we want to include the world in our words.”
Hirshfield says that "The Chinese Zen teacher Lin-chi (Rinzai) described enlightenment as becoming a “person of no rank”: the person who knows his true nature, like the ordinary person when in the liminal state of transition, is free of the forms of status. To be of “no rank” is to be equal with everyone, whether beggar or king.”
This is important for writers, who also “must be persons of no rank, for whom no part of existence is less – or more – holy than the rest. The writer turns to the inconsequential and almost invisible weeds for meaning as much as to the glorious blossoms, values the dark parts of the story as much as its light.”
Thinking of myself as a person of no rank, which is not far from the truth, also helps me in my library work. Remembering that no soul is more or less holy than another.
In a chapter on originality, Hirshfield quotes from a letter said to be Mozart's. He says, “When I am, as it were, completely myself, entirely alone, and of good cheer – say, travelling in a carriage, or walking after a good meal, or during the night when I cannot sleep; it is on such occasions that my ideas flow best and most abundantly.”
This is one of the secrets to creativity, this ability to find the bones of oneself, to boil oneself down to one's essence, not trying to be someone else, something else. To be completely oneself.
If you follow me on Facebook or Instagram, you will know that earlier this week we said goodbye to our beloved dog, Ace. And I suppose that's why I was drawn to read about tenderness. Rob and I spend a lot of time at home. Rob works from home, and spent more time with Ace than any of us. We had imagined we'd have another year or two with him, and I suppose we're still in a bit of shock at the cancer diagnosis and the very rapid decline we saw in him. Several days later, I'm still looking around for him, listening for him at the back door. I've been surprised at the depth and assertiveness of the grief we're feeling, the all-encompassing nature of it. I had supposed when the time came I would be more stoic. I am not.
Well, all of these holy souls. The news continues to be devastating. We reach out in tenderness. All of us equal. We reach out in love.