Dharma Glimpse by Dylan Tweney
This past Monday was Independence Day in America, or what one of my Buddhist friends likes to call Interdependence Day. In addition to the holiday, my company also gave us Tuesday and Wednesday off, so I had an extra long weekend to rest and reflect. In theory, anyway. I had grand plans to renew myself through swimming and writing, but between chores and family obligations I made it all the way to Wednesday without having dipped into the water once, and without having written a word other than a few short scribbles in my diary.
So on Wednesday I took myself up to Aquatic Park in San Francisco and swam for half an hour in the Bay. The cold water was refreshing and renewing, as it always is. I found a friendly vegan restaurant on Union Street where I ate veggies and noodles for lunch, then I drove north to Stinson Beach to try some body surfing. The waves were low and easy, the people I was meeting with were friendly and helpful, and I was thrilled to be able to sort of half-catch a few waves. It was enough. It was more than enough! Staring into the bright silver light as the afternoon sun lit up the sea, looking for rideable waves, I felt right at home, blissed out in the embrace of the ocean. I may have even shouted “Ocean!” as I dove into a wave once. Turning around to face the beach, the dark, fog-wreathed hills above Stinson were an almost comically gorgeous, perfect contrast to the shimmering light of the sea behind me.
In short, I sought refuge in the sea and found it that day. I relaxed and the discontented feeling that had been chasing me all week evaporated.
On the drive home, I listened to some random recommendations queued up by my music app. What came up as I rolled down the broad strip of Van Ness Avenue (the wide road built along the 1906 firebreak that saved half the city) was Aretha Franklin’s 1972 performance of “Amazing Grace” at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church, Los Angeles.
Now, nearly every capitalized word in that last sentence except for Aretha’s own name and the word “Amazing” are practically a foreign language to me: Grace, Missionary, Baptist, Los Angeles — these are places I don’t normally go. But this uninhibited, 10-minute exuberant praise of grace hit me hard.
I realized that my Buddhist practice doesn’t include a lot of vocabulary (or songs) for exultation and exuberance. And that is sometimes just the mood you need. When something larger than you, something as big as the universe, catches you up and lifts you into its arms and reminds you that you are part of it — well, sometimes the right response is silent awe, sometimes it’s tears of joy, and sometimes you just need to shout and sing.
I know this. I’m humble enough to acknowledge that I can be small minded and respond out of conditioned annoyance instead of Big Mind. I’m grateful that Big Mind (bodhicitta, shinjin, grace — call it what you will) came to me on Wednesday, carried by some gentle waves off the Pacific and by Aretha’s voice.
So now I’m wondering: There are songs shouting praise to Jesus — are there songs like this for Amida? Can we get a nice rocking rhythm section and a choir to back us up on our joyful Plum Village songs and transform them from happy camp tunes into soaring revival hymns? Are there any good Zen gospel songs? It might take another generation or two but I am sure they’re coming. I hope I get a chance to hear them.
To quote another song from the same album: “I want to sing, I just want to shout this evening, my soul looks back in wonder how I got over.”
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