Notes on a Buddhist path


December 30, 2012 By | 2 Comments

You give us those nice bright colors
You give us the greens of summers
Makes you think all the world’s a sunny day” ~ Paul Simon

With the glistening expectations of Christmas now dimming in winter’s burgeoning light, I can hear January leaning into my horizon, like a downhill skier teetering on the brink of gravity’s crescendo. It doesn’t seem fair somehow that all the lights and tinseled grandeur of Jesus’s birthday should be hurdled down the slopes of the ebbing year in just seven days. Although by some accounts the world was created in that same amount of time, dismantling comfort and joy takes, thankfully, considerably more time.

Resolution lists seem to materialize as well when January 1st careens in our direction. I’m more of the year-round resolving type in terms of changes to my habits or preponderances I wish to curtail.  If something arises that needs attention, I set my course then and there rather than wait for a designated start time to rectify my ill-got ways. Maybe it has more to do with the fact that I don’t like to do what everyone else does when everyone else does it. Call me obstinate or stubborn; I like to make changes in my life when I’m good and ready. This year during that precious time between Christmas and New Year’s Day, I found myself good and ready. The long awaited desire to hunker down at home over these eight days was ripe in making space for my writing, for rest and for non-attachment.

Along with dispersing some of my clutter a few weeks ago, I’ve been unraveling the threads of my connections to many things.  Nibbling away this past week at a to-do list that contained bits and bobs of tasks I’ve been planning to do for months, if not years, has been most gratifying. Along with cleaning out my storage room, updating my computer virus software and taking my shoes to be repaired, I tackled my attachments to a project I’ve been putting off for many years: sifting through hundreds of family photographs.

Opening a pair of old leather suitcases filled to the brim with old photos, I watched the years and memories spill out onto my living room floor. While some images stirred up nostalgic embers, others imbued me with puzzled wonder. Who were these people? At one time their faces must have meant something to my parents or to me, but now they were the smiles of faded Kodachrome sentimentality. Their dismissal from the ranks of treasures was pretty straight forward. Culling the astonishing number of duplicate shots was also rather easy (ah, the optimism we had back then – of course we would want an extra copy of every perfect photo). Narrowing down the collections of family, friends, former partners and my progressively aging self captured on celluloid to finite parcels was a bit more daunting. I let go of keeping every birthday party angle, every holiday gift being unwrapped, every vacation sunset and out of focus landscape and I held onto the pictures containing the essence of that person, that time. Snapshot is such a fitting descriptor. In that precise moment of presence a camera’s shutter blinked and after all these years we can still see that speck of time that will never come again.

Through the sorting and tossing I watched my emotions rise and fall, my attachments to those specks of time and people recounted in black and white and faded colour. I watched where the heartstrings pulled tighter, where the loosened knots of relinquishment were replaced by grace. I found though that near the end of two hours my resolve and Solomon-like decision making were dissolving into doubt and a slight case of irritability. The two brimming suitcases had been narrowed to one and with that I felt satisfied. Perhaps another day, another year will find my nostalgia and attachments waning further and I’ll be able to narrow the decades held in that suitcase down to a handful of beloved past reflections.

Looking around my apartment today, I feel a gentle sense of ease. There are fewer things filling my shelves, fewer cravings cajoling with my sense of need. In their place there is more room for spaciousness and for gratitude. Opening up my physical space allows me to see the possibility of letting go of the tethers to all things, to all emotions, to all fetters that hold me in the clenching vice of dukkha, the unsatisfactoriness or suffering of life. Feeling the hold of dukkha loosen with each thing we give away, each photograph we discard, each longing we set down allows us to step closer to not replacing the old with the new, cherishing instead the satiated fullness of emptiness.

Wishing you a new year of peace, joy and time for a change.

New Year Resolve

by May Sarton

The time has come
To stop allowing the clutter
To clutter my mind
Like dirty snow,
Shove it off and find
Clear time, clear water.

Time for a change,
Let silence in like a cat
Who has sat at my door
Neither wild nor strange
Hoping for food from my store
And shivering on the mat.

Let silence in.
She will rarely speak or mew,
She will sleep on my bed
And all I have ever been
Either false or true
Will live again in my head.

For it is now or not
As old age silts the stream,
To shove away the clutter,
To untie every knot,
To take the time to dream,
To come back to still water.

“New Year Resolve” by May Sarton, from Collected Poems 1930-1993. © W.W. Norton & Co., 1993.

Excerpt from the song, “Kodachrome”, lyrics by Paul Simon, © 1973

Image credit: ©  Tess Wixted, all rights reserved


  1. Tess, I love that poem. Beautiful. Glad you cleared some room for your wonderful imagination to roam. I look forward to reading where you go in 2013 my friend. xo

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