Refuge

I was tired, and my family was most of the way through dinner when I walked through the door. I would have only an hour to spend with the kids before they would go off to bed. I joined them at the table, anticipating stories about the day. Instead, I heard complaints about what had been prepared for dinner. Shortly afterward, calls to clean up blocks and legos brought tears. Short voices from children and adults alike arose from attempts to complete homework that had waited too long.

I needed refuge.

I looked for it in the memory of the night before, when I had lain down next to my five-year old son after tucking him into bed. There had been a few minutes left before our usual lights-out time, and he scooted to make room as I moved the spare pillow up next to his. He noticed that his older brother was reading in bed, and sensing an opening to keep me right where I was, grabbed a book of his own. He asked me about each of the pictures in the book of trains and made comments about which ones he liked best. He came to the end of the book and glanced at me, perhaps expecting I would get up to say goodnight. When I didn’t move, he leaned over the edge of his bed for another book.

It’s Go Dog Go, Dad. I’ll read it to you.

I watched him as he concentrated, listened as he matched the words to the pictures, rescued him when a page was just too tricky. The wind chill blew well below zero outside, but the room was hushed and I felt warm in the embrace of my son’s company. When it came time to turn out the light, he reached for a sticky note on the floor beside his bed.

For a bookmark, Dad. We can start there tomorrow night.

And so tonight, as everyone’s dissatisfaction with the present moment was apparent, I was desperate to climb back onto his bed, find that bookmark, and pick up right where we had left off. We struggled through the rest of the evening routine as best we could, then he and I flopped onto the bed, our book right where we had left it. He propped up his stuffed Eeyore doll under his arm – to help him read, he said – as I retrieved the spare pillow at the foot of the bed. We settled back to where we had been the night before.

My refuge disintegrated.

His reading was halting as he struggled with almost all of the words. I grew frustrated when, line after line, he encountered the word around, yet he somehow couldn’t read it. The phone rang and the light didn’t seem quite bright enough for reading. To my dismay, nothing felt the same. Page after page, I wanted the world to flow just as it had the night before. My attempts to help, to give us both that little nudge, couldn’t turn the calendar back a day. Time was passing too quickly, and each page too slowly. We picked a place to stop and I stood up to turn out the lights.

As I kissed him goodnight and walked across the room to my other son to stroke his cheek, I rested briefly in my frustration – and finally found my refuge. Right where it had been waiting for me all along, in the Buddha nature of the moment as it was, in the Buddha nature of my sons, in the Buddha nature of disappointment. Not in the memory of a moment gone by.

Standing there in that moment, I knew that by reaching back to try and recreate the night before, I had been trying too hard to take refuge. That’s what the vow says, after all – I take refuge in the Buddha, I take refuge in the Dharma. Perhaps it is a relic of translation from ancient Pali, or maybe just an unfortunate semantic coincidence, but there’s nothing there to be taken. As if refuge were something that I could grasp or a place that I could go.

How many times have I gone down that path?

Refuge, instead, finally came from letting go, from an acceptance of what was already there for me. And while refuge can find foundation in a vow and in the great determination of Yuanmiao or Hakuin, it blossomed tonight in the suddenness of resignation, finding purchase in the ceasing, for just a moment, of longing for something more. In openness and softness.

Both boys were asleep within moments as I headed downstairs to stand with my wife at the kitchen sink, where the dinner dishes still awaited.

Let me rest 
against your extra pillow,
the embroidered one 
from your crib years gone by,

while you lean back 
amongst the blankets
and read to me.

Go ahead and ask me
what each page says,
and tell me,
in your right-up-close voice,
which ones
are your favorite pictures.

Scratch the turning page
against the flannel sheets
until the very last one,

then offer me another reprieve.

Reach down to your
old apple-crate bookcase, 
and murmur to yourself
about which book
you might choose next.

24 thoughts on “Refuge

  1. tickertapemind

    Just beautiful.

    It reminds me of a time when the kids at the hostel were acting up. I couldn’t sleep for the music and so I charged up stairs huffing and puffing. They opened the door with a big beam, but upon seeing my growl, one of them puffed up his chest. In a rare moment of right action, I smiled. He deflated and the door was opened wider to let me in. I simply said, “If I can’t beat you, I’ll join you”.

    The rest of that night was pretty bleak. They were on a high and I couldn’t sleep once I’d gone back to bed. But, the next few weeks were calm and full of laughter. In letting go of myself, they had let go too and we had a chance to re-establish our relationship. Around that time, a resident left and I sent him on his way with a card saying, “If at first you don’t succeed; let go, let go, let go.”

    I don’t remember where I got that from but I’m happy to be reminded of it and the times I shared when I was working at the hostel.

    Thank you.

    Reply
  2. midlifemusingsblog

    So beautifully written. How wise for you to have such clarity when your children are still young, most of us take too long to realize there is no going back, there is just now, at this moment. Loved your post!!

    Reply
    1. bussokuseki Post author

      Thank you so much for the visit and taking the time to comment. Having realized it, my struggle is to act on it – a struggle which never makes me feel particularly wise…but that is the path, I suppose. Be well~

      Reply
  3. Carla Saunders

    Thank you for visiting my blog. i wouldn’t have found this beautiful peaceful few moments of reading and thinking about what you said. My son is 40 . The fleeting moments are as special now as they were when he was five.

    Reply
  4. dmarshall58

    Beautiful. I imagine every parent has experienced moments like what you’ve described, but you’ve evoked these feelings so simply and directly and movingly.

    Reply
    1. bussokuseki Post author

      Thank you so much for the visit and for taking the time to comment. I tried to write about that feeling many times and wasn’t able to…until that moment made it perfectly clear… Be well~

      Reply
  5. chrisbkm

    I find this a truly outstanding post. Uncluttered sincerity and a clear view of a moment. My children are 27 and 30 – I remember your moment so well! It also makes me think of my own father, with his two sons. Beautiful post.
    Chris

    Reply
    1. bussokuseki Post author

      Chris,

      There are so many moments that are difficult to articulate, yet a feeling that there is something there to express. I am finding that if I am patient enough, something will happen to show me clearly what my experience has been hinting at… Thank you so much for this comment. I find a very clear view in your writing, I am quite touched and glad this resonated for you.

      Reply
  6. charlotteporter9

    I read this, and then let it simmer, and then re-read. It made me think about how even memories are attachments that can cause us suffering, even the good ones. My family and I have shared millions of little moments of joy, but there is often sorrow for me in remembering these snapshots of our lives. Even looking at actual pictures can make me feel sadness! Maybe because I wasn’t as present then and there, or maybe because the kids have grown so much, or maybe because I am having a difficult day and wish I could be back at another point. It all just makes me realize how being in the moment, being mindful of every little pleasure or frustration, is something to be grateful for. I also like your poem at the end of the post. My son is also five and learning to read, so there is a special resonance for me. . . have a nice afternoon. — CJ.

    Reply
    1. bussokuseki Post author

      Thank you very much for this thoughtful comment. The things I am most attached to these days (one of this pieces I still haven’t been able to write, but this is a piece of it) have nothing to do with tangible objects…but a lot to do with a desire for these fleeting moments to not be so fleeting…

      Ah well, one step at a time. Be well~

      Reply
  7. pujakins

    Present moment
    perfect moment
    perfection varies
    with the moment
    and the present.

    Loved this so true so wonderfully typical of children entry.Thanks for the sharing.
    Warm Wishes, Tasha

    Reply
  8. Papa Angst

    Beautiful post. Among many others, the idea of “finding purchase in the ceasing” has left me with much to reflect on. Thanks for sharing your insight and experiences.

    Reply
  9. Byron Jorjorian

    You have done a great job of putting into words feelings and thoughts that often just flash in our minds for a moment. I have three grown children and one still at home. I realize now that every moment is precious!

    Reply
  10. josna

    I find a lot to think about in this post. You evoke that bedtime coziness so well, and I recognize my own need for refuge in your description of your own. I looked forward to my nightly reading ritual with my son as much as he did–perhaps even more–and I know that there was an strong element of escape in it–escape from my present, sentimental return to my own childhood rather than attention to my son’s feelings and needs in the present. I am also aware of this element for me in keeping a blog–escape from the pressing demands of my workaday life. Thank you.

    Reply
    1. bussokuseki Post author

      Thank you so much for reading and for your thoughtful comment. It is interesting what you say about keeping a blog…it can be such a great tool for paying attention to ourselves and our lives…but could also be something we use to distract our attention… Thank you again & be well~

      Reply

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