As It Is: Perception is Everything

As It Is

“If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear as it is…”
William Blake…”The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”

There is only this…
As it is.
Look in the trees, in the crotches
where water and old rotten acorns gather…
there it is…the only thing you need to own,
to carry with you on a dark night:
As it is. This is the gem, the truth
hidden in the sky, winging fiercely behind
clouds, disguised as cirrus or cumulous or
the dark anvil of nebulous.

It scuttles across the blue frozen
expanse of snow as a curled brown leaf:
As it is. You can find it tucked up gently
in the softly spiraled head of a
fiddle-head fern or in the dank hollow end
of a freshly picked morel: As it is.

It rattles in the throats of dying mothers
and snoring husbands.
It won’t pack into a suitcase or protect you
from root canals, but
it drains fear from your heart as you lie
in bed at night, and it siphons anger
from your spleen as you stand,
fists clenched, facing your boss late
on a Friday afternoon: As it is.

Some say an old Tibetan monk hid it
in all those places for the love of us all. And
some say it’s God out masquerading
for the fun of it. I say it is just as it is
as I hold my leg so it won’t shake.
I say it is just as it is as I watch a dozen
Red Admirals spread their wings, lifting
all around me as I walk down a country road.

I say it is just as it is as one season
slips into another and the fullness
of moon changes to a sliver,
as all around me life is singing…
There is only this…
and again I say it is just as it is
as I reach up into darkness, tracing
that gentle curve with grace,
with just a sliver of grace

By dlk. 2010

I first wrote this poem about six months after I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s.  I wasn’t on medications yet because I was in a study sponsored by the Michael J. Fox Foundation, which was testing a new drug.  Writing, what I refer to as my “Parkinson’s Poems,” helped me get through and process a very difficult time.  The writing motivated me to pull together all of my deepest beliefs, experiences, and practices in order to begin to ‘see’ my present and future in a proactive/positive way.

I think that this poem, As It Is, may have been the second poem I wrote at that time.  I was attempting to pull together a life-time of thoughts on staying in the present moment, in spite of the inherent insecurity and fluidity of the present.  Each time I looked at this photo, which is tacked to my bulliten board in my study, memories of my mother and thoughts about my brother’s remarkable, yet simple, way of looking at life, helped me stay strong and put things in perspective.

This photo was taken in fall of 1953, or perhaps very early spring 1954.  We are in southern Ohio on property owned by six generations of our family.  My father’s father (who was in a nursing home within two years and who died three years after the photo was taken) sits on the ground watching my father take the photo.  My mother (who would collapse with polio in the fall of 1955, never to hike or run again) holds me, and my brother (19 months older than me and who would experience chronic health issues and more hardship than any young person should have to go through) sits on the blanket attempting to look at the camera and drink at the same time.

My brother’s favorite saying during difficult times is, “It just be’s that way!”

Our mother had memorized a poem in high school, The Salutation of the Dawn,” which she recited to us frequently throughout our lives, and which she said summed up her philosophy.  The original was written in Sanskrit by the Indian poet Kalidasa.  I keep the words, written in my mother’s handwriting, above my desk:


“Look to this day,/for it is life, the very life of life./In it’s brief course lie all the verities/and realities of your existence:/the bliss of growth/the glory of action/the splendor of beauty,/for yesterday is already a dream/and tomorrow is only a vision,/but today well lived makes every yesterday a dream of happiness/and every tomorrow a vision of hope./Look well, therefore to this day./Such is the salutation of the dawn.

I can still hear her voice, and see her slight smile as she recited this poem for us.  Maybe this poem was her touch-stone, helping her forge a life of positive thinking, always seeing the cup half-full, never complaining about all she had lost through polio at age 37 and then to have it come back full-force in later life (post-polio).  Her way of ‘positive’ thinking was not the same as mine, but long before studying the mind through studying Buddhism, my mother’s thinking deeply informed mine and inspires me to this day.

My mother’s “Look to this day…”, my brother’s “It just be’s that way,” and my favorite phrase for tough times, “as it is,” are all getting at virtually the same thing.  Suffering is the result of forever wishing things were not as they are…living in a past of regrets and nostalgia or in a future of hopes and wishes and fantasies.  It’s not that any of these are ‘wrong’ in any way.  In fact, hope and visualizing future and regretting actions taken in the past, can all be quite helpful.  But it is when we are attached to a certain outcome…whether it be being miraculously cured of a disease or finding enough money to pay the bills…that is when we suffer.

I like the story of the two arrows.  The first arrow causes pain, but if you don’t focus on the present, on actually pulling the arrow out, but rather lament “why me?” or get obsessed with thoughts of revenge, it is like being shot with a second arrow.  This is the one which will cause enormous suffering.  It is your attachment to your thoughts of the situation, your perception of it all, which will determine whether you will allow yourself to see the splendor and beauty of “the realities of your existence,” to see the glory of life “as it is.”

Every member of my family, on both sides for, at least, three generations, has had their own favorite ways of pointing to this same truth.  Every time I glance over at this photo, I am filled with gratefulness for being part of this “lineage” of  artists and crafts-people, and teachers…minds filled with being right here, right now, and hearts filled with the openness to welcome others into sharing “a day well-lived.”

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