Bhavana: How we grow as knowledge cultivators

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Bhavana, meaning to cultivate or develop but commonly used in Buddhism as a word for meditation, once again flashes before my mind’s eye. Despite researching the term, the exact sense of the word often escapes me. Does it simply mean to grow understanding? Are meditation and bhavana the same? I have not yet reached that place where my life experience and the word’s essence combine to flesh out the bones of meaning—not in its spiritual sense.

Cultivating takes time: crops grow over…See more

Life in the Gap

 
 
Understanding is a process of contemplating and confronting mysteries. It’s like we have two selves, the observant and the enlightened. One ingests with absorption while the other processes by simmering. Their timing is not always the same. Sometimes understanding arrives much later than input data. But it is our pricking drive of curiosity and our slow-cooking insight that comprises learning–and living.
 
Frank Conroy, writer and musician, says in his essay entitled “Think About It,” that “Education doesn’t end until life ends, because you never know when you’re going to understand something you hadn’t understood before.” This elasticity of understanding, the distance between input and processing, is the expanse of the canvas of our lives, covers the whole painting. Conroy so aptly puts it, “The physical body exists in a constant state of tension as it maintains homeostasis, and so too does the active mind embrace the tension of never being certain, never being absolutely sure, never being done, as it engages the world. That is our special fate, our inexpressibly valuable condition.”
 
We doubt. We feel insecure in ignorance–some of us–and so we look for answers. Sometimes we find them in our immediate search, like when I ask my students to Google a word, ‘avuncular’, for instance, when that word turns up in their reading. Other times, we don’t find the answer or solution until much later–or never.
 
I remember one ex-client explaining his divorce. Of his wife of 30 years, he said, “I did not hear what she said–or I did not understand her words.” He told me his wife complained that he didn’t work hard for the family, which baffled him since he was putting in 12-hour days and weekends, socking away retirement and college money. He could not understand how that was not working for his family–until he did. “Now I know she wanted me to look at her, to work hard at being there for her and our boys each day by spending time and focus on them, not my work,” he confessed. He shuttered out simple words spoken to him before his experience allowed him to “see”.
 
That lag time between learning and understanding is the human condition. Some would even say that inside that gap–between ingestion and digestion–is rubbery, elastic life itself. Maybe.
 
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Shhhh…

  
Shhh…don’t tell anyone.

I have a long, torrid relationship with her, my mistress and master both. I submit to her daily, as she owns me now. Though it was not always that way. She once hurt me badly, my heart and body, which caused us to part ways for many years, close to twenty, in fact. But I realize now that she had something to teach me, a lesson I needed to learn about myself–and her–before we could be together, merge our lives seamlessly into the desire and need we are about today.

I met her as a teen with big ideas. I was sixteen then and drawn to everything and everyone I measured as cool, earthy, and spiritual. I read about her in a book I purchased second hand from a used bookstore, and I was immediately lured to her mystique. There was something there I did not understand but wanted to know more about. So I read and learned about her, imitated her every move to earn me my cool. Until one day, I met her.

She was all she was cracked up to be at that first meeting: sexy, lithe, strong and flexible. Muscular and compact, she appeared the picture of youth, while she breathed ancient wisdom, emitted it from her pores. I was astounded and flustered in love.

And though our meeting ended then, we met again, and then again…for awhile…until the pain. 

I had to learn the hard way, as I always have. I was arrogant and needy. Not one to be forced and taken, controlled and overpowered, she left me howling, bedridden for months, depressed and injured. The love affair ended in the slow drip of time it takes to heal a body and mind.

When we later met again, I had changed. She had not. But my approach to her differed then from the earlier times. I did not need her, merely wanted her. I penetrated her eye to eye, then bowed. That made all the difference between us.

We co-exist now, as one. Since our reunion five or six years ago, she has never left me. We live with and through one another.

When I am down, face down to the ground but hips high to the sky, she takes me, makes my breath grow steady and strong; she makes me weep sometimes like this, too much to hold, my arms arrested for the weight of my body. She buckles my knees sometimes, how she holds me in her grasp, in her heart and her embrace, me and all who love her, whom she loves. And she loves.

 
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