Great Ancestor Ma replied, "It's just the place where you let go of your body and your life."
A few hours ago I gathered up the dedications that had been placed on the altar of the Vast Refuge Sangha at the cadet chapel over the past month, as I do each month at the time of the full moon. The dedications come from members of the community as well as visitors who are just passing through. It's always interesting and touching to read the wide array of what is offered, people sharing what is most in their hearts and on their minds: my grandpa; Marcus; Misty & Britt; Paris; for Mom; Karim Ahmed, Motaz Ahmed; all my loved ones & family; peace in Syria; my hopes & dreams, fulfill my potential; my dad; Beirut; for Ribs, my dead cat; Nadia Thompson :-( ; my whole family. There are also dedications in handwriting I can't read and languages I don't know, and it doesn't matter. The altar welcomes whatever comes, not requiring it to be anything other that what it is, not needing to know its story or where it is hoped things will go from here - simply receiving, holding, present, abiding. Welcoming, welcoming, welcoming...
My life feels like it is always such an altar, open to receive and welcome whatever the world places upon it, meeting, holding and abiding with these things, wondering what it may be able to offer and how it can help. In these particularly tumultuous and challenging times of late, though, the poignancy and importance of this altar-life comes to bear, mostly through noticing the desire to close it off due to the pain and sorrow brought by the things that are landing on it these days. Yet deep down I know this is not the route to take, I know before I can offer what is needed and help with the transformation of it I must welcome, receive, and attend to what is coming to meet me. I am curious about the stories that come along with these things and wonder about what each of them is wanting and hoping for, yet ultimately I'm not too interested in these specifics or trying to figure out or satisfy each of them. I'm more interested in being like that altar which provides a space for all of these things to exist side-by-side, none of them more or less important than the other, gathering them all together and moving into what is next without rejecting any.
This is what I find myself grateful for on this Thanksgiving Eve: this complex, complicated, astounding, devastating, wondrous, beautiful, impossible life, and for the living of it. My heart is heavy and my mind is weary, and at the same time they are imbued with the brightness of joy and love, and in this there is no conflict but rather a sense of completeness, for this is what it means to be alive. I find that I can trust this, and a sense of gratitude arises, not contingent upon or connected to anything in particular. It just is. Being in this gratitude, things remain just as complicated and impossible as before. I still don't know where things are going and how they'll end up, and I don't have any strong ideas of how to navigate my way through it all. But I'm showing up for it, and I'm taking part in it, and I'm giving myself to the transformation of what is now into what is next and beyond, endlessly.
As I do with the dedications that come along each month, I'll soon head out to offer them up in flames under the full moon, shining brightly. The now-empty altar will become full again, and the cycle of welcoming and receiving and offering continues along, just as the moon continues along in its own way, from full to dark to full again - letting go of all it has become to be the living of all that it is.