Heart of Life/Coeur de la vie: Day/Jour III

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Heart of Life/Coeur de la vie: Day/Jour III

I love the dying light of early winter morning today. I can’t explain why. Maybe it’s the rich paleness of it or the simplicity of its spareness. It’s like the fallen red berries on my garden path: the fruit of life meeting its certain end.

Now green tea at my desk again after brief sitting. Feeling filled with the words you have all posted the past two days (and two Leonard Cohen YouTube links). All so very moving, each in its very own way. Thank you, truly, truly thank you.

And so begins another day of my newly « unemployed » life. Much to write about that, and I will, I promise, but there’s no time or space to do so here, this morning.

Today, like almost every day since I first heard them in July 2009, Mr. Cohen’s words come to me: « There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in. » The cracks seem to be omnipresent these days – or maybe I’m just paying more attention to them, whether I want to or not? So much seems to be falling apart – socially, politically, economically – and I’m finding all around me, near and not so near, the presence of so much sickness, old age and death. Amid all this seeming unraveling, I can’t explain why, but Leonard Cohen’s words change the experience of those cracks for me. It’s not so much that I « see the light » that he refers to. No, it feels more like I « see the cracks, » I really see the cracks, which means I let them be, which means I experience them as they are. And that changes everything. That’s how, as Leonard says, the light gets in.

By | 2016-11-30T13:36:45+00:00 novembre 30th, 2016|Retraites au coeur de la vie|23 Comments

About the Author:

Enseignante Zen et poète, Sensei Amy “Tu es cela” Hollowell est née et a grandi à Minneapolis, aux Etats-Unis. Arrivée en France en 1981 pour étudier la littérature et l’histoire, elle y est restée, s’installant à Paris, où elle élève ses deux enfants et gagne sa vie en tant que journaliste. The Zen teacher and poet Amy “Tu es cela” Hollowell Sensei was born and raised in Minneapolis, but came to France in 1981 to study literature and history and has lived in Paris ever since, raising her two children and making a living as a journalist.


  1. João Pedro Tapada 1 décembre 2016 at 9 h 51 min - Reply

    Greetings from Almada, Portugal.
    Don’t think I ever payed such attention to that quote about the cracks and the light getting in as I did when reading it now, even though Amy as refered to it sometimes. Particularly the cracks, which lead to another verse (I guess they belong to the same song, but it doesn’t matter) that always touched me more: forget your perfect offering. This brings me always, first of all, to the story Amy chose to comment on the Hidden Lamp book, where Laywoman Pang, after offering food for the local temple, and being asked on whose behalf the offering is made, simply takes out a comb and stucks it in the back of her head, holding the hair, saying « dedication of merit is now complete ». For me, all this is the same, the cracks, accepted as they are, accepted that they are, that they exist, make me see that this is life, just like this, they are life. The offering, the offering I give life, the offering that life is, or the offering that life gives me, I don’t know, is just a comb stuck in the back of the hair, holding it together, it’s just the birds singing outside my bedroom window as they do each morning, even though it’s pouring rain, it’s reading a friend’s post on Facebook about how shitty he feels when in is cosy home and eating a nice dinner he watches the news about the deaths in Alepo. All this that doesn’t seem to fit, that doesn’t feel right, that feels uncomfortable. Because my work is a solitary one, sitting at a desk at home the entire day from early morning until well into the night, day after day, and the thoughts that creep in about what the hell did I accomplish today when it’s time to go to bed, and then the feeling that I should I be grateful for at least something, even if it’s just being alive, having a roof over my head and a warm bed and not having to sleep outside in the rain.

  2. céu 1 décembre 2016 at 9 h 21 min - Reply

    Bonjour, je suis la à Lisbonne óu il pleut beaucoup ce matin, seulement capable pour écrire ou lire en français, j’ais dejá essayer de lire l’anglais et ça vas pas, aujourd’hui. Je me prépare pour aller travailler et arriver ce soir de nouveau pour regarder vôtres messages, en français, portugais, anglais,c’est une bonne discipline, la langage d’être ensemble, merci

  3. Rita 1 décembre 2016 at 6 h 25 min - Reply

    Hello to all. I’m also in this retreat. Since 14th October I did a real crack in my head. I fall/faint in the ground. At the urgencies in the hospital, neurologist called it « head trauma not specified ». Some days later at home and reading the report, that seems a James Joyce story… I asked myself what does this means? Its for sure (?) a light head trauma which doesn’t mean it is light to take or accept. At the urgencies two neurologists « treated » me, and then sent me home… don’t know when, or if, I’ll have another appointement. Insomnia is present at regular paces. Working at the office is sometimes like the usual, like before, others quite tiring. Concentrating at night to study for the master degree… I hope the light gets in(side) fast.
    Rita, Coimbra

  4. Sónia Martinez 1 décembre 2016 at 4 h 03 min - Reply

    Light, cracks…its all me, parts of me that suports me , create the way to my counscioness of myself,..are both the origin and the result of my all life..experiences, feelings, thoughts.
    From Portugal and just arriiving at Paris , the city of light.

  5. André 1 décembre 2016 at 1 h 08 min - Reply

    Many cracks. Can lots of light blind?

    Wet greetings from Lisbon

  6. Filipa 1 décembre 2016 at 1 h 05 min - Reply

    Lisbon. I’ve sat a longer period today. At 5pm with Luís and Paula at União Busdista (in Lisbon). I’ve been feeling the cracks I have in me. And sometimes I just THINK I’m broke and with no chance of repair (haven’t thought about the gold possibility tough, thank you Tiago! ;)). And then Luís mentioned Amy’s post of the day… Especially today, that I had forgotten about the retreat, so busy I’ve been, moving out of my apartment, watching the kitchen and bathroom being destroyed, seeing the cracks under the surfaces… (so it’ll be rebuilt once again), moving out, getting everything into place where I’ll be living temporarily…
    I feel a sense of calm, and I smile, now seeing the possibility that some cracks can be restored (thank you Amy and Luís), because knowing they’re there is probably half way to heal them… Right crack expert? You don’t actually repair things that need no repair, do you? … if I seem them, some sort of « light » will come trough them and they’ll naturally heal, with the new shed light… at least I hope so…

  7. Elizabeth 1 décembre 2016 at 0 h 19 min - Reply

    I tried to send a mail this afternoon but my computer refused it cracked !
    Now coming from a birthdayparty and (almost )all the time remembering being in
    the heart of life retreat makes all the difference.

    Sweet dreams for you all
    from Coimbra

  8. Juan 30 novembre 2016 at 23 h 19 min - Reply

    It took me longer to join the sangha on this retreat, work, hotel, tight schedules, Lufthansa strike and feeling trapped, distance, family, tiredness… just read the blog for the first two days… now the words from Roshi made my face change to a wide smile with this quote… the amazing subtlety: the cracks of our own imperfection and the light that shines through making us humans.
    I just needed this food for heart. Thx (feeling very grateful)

  9. Manon 30 novembre 2016 at 23 h 16 min - Reply

    Merci pour tous les messages. Je les lis à chaque fois avec émotion. Fin d’une journée pleine de joie et de bonne humeur, entourée d’amis qui me remplissent par leur présence silencieuse ou leurs blagues ou les chewing-gum et les café qu’ils m’offrent pendant les pauses d’une longue journée à la fac. Ils sont parfaits tout simplement.
    Vous êtes tous parfaits.

  10. Tomas 30 novembre 2016 at 23 h 10 min - Reply

    So warm and heartening to read all your messages today 🙂 It is late now, Joy and I did a short sitting just before going to bed, here in Vesancy, France, a small village at the foot of the Jura mountains. The day was filled with light, pouring though cracks and non-cracks. Sunlight bathing is with beautiful light during the morning sitting today, again the 2 of us, that time also with our baby, the 3 of us. Then again, all of us, together, sitting wherever you are. « The One is Many and Two are not Two ». All together painting the world with our cracks, letting light flow. Now suddenly a feeling of sweet vulnerability, sweet fragility, warm heartening crack…

  11. Madalena 30 novembre 2016 at 22 h 37 min - Reply

    Good evening from Esposende..

    « Slow down.

    Don’t be so hard on yourself for not having it together all the time, for not knowing all the answers. You don’t always have to be sure of who you are, otherwise there would be nothing left to discover. You don’t have to know where you’re headed or have a clear vision of the bigger picture. Sometimes taking one tiny step at a time is more than enough. Sometimes slowing down just to feel the wind blow against you is the beauty of life right there. Wander, be unsure when it is natural to be. Let yourself breathe. We’re all rushing for no reason anyway.
    –S.C Lourie »

    I love this text/message, as it makes me realize that sometimes, I have to slow down and just breathe, in and out, like we do in meditation, to see life from a different perspective and understand how lucky and blessed I am..
    Have a lovely evening..

  12. ECA 30 novembre 2016 at 21 h 32 min - Reply

    Geneva. Today was a busy day and before sitting my head was buzzing with the energy of the day. As I put down my cushion I was dreading the many emails in my inbox needing a reply and the conference call with my partners in the US still scheduled for tonight (which I feel very ill prepared for). I couldn’t wait to sit and rid myself of purpose and pressure. Feeling much better now, having sat only 20 mins.

    From the moment I read the blog today and saw the phase « There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in » I was struck by the similarity between this and Plato’s cave allegory where the people are chained in the cave and looking at the cave wall and they see only shadows. And the philosopher was like a freed prisoner who sees true form and reality rather than the shadows. Indeed, I find beauty in the cracks, just as the red berries on the path returning to the earth are beautiful. Like the days when I have had to bury someone or some animal that I loved, the sadness in their departure and the gratefulness in my heart that I shared some place in their life. And the comfort I often find in pain, the comfort that I can feel anything at all.

  13. Evi 30 novembre 2016 at 21 h 18 min - Reply

    Like Tiago’s, my life is filled with crackes, if you want to see it that way. Like Amy says today, I never liked that the light was emphasized in the song, as the crack gets so degraded. I share the life of dying people as a professional. When we emphasize on our health and youth, we degrade the dying. Okumura calls it the arrogance of youth and health.
    Yesterday I vistited three patients. The oldest was 56, fighting his cancer since seven years. Yesterday he suddenly could let go saying to me after I spoke with him a long time, he rarely was as happy as when he relaxed and slept that afternoon. Sometimes I think, with the emphysize on our understanding of life, we are simply in a survival mode, but we do not fully life. To see the crack for the crack is to face out impermanence and therefore live life fully. Even as I see death every day, I am not sure, if I have actepted it for myself. I bow to all my teachers – those who allow me to stay at their bedside, as hard and sad as it is sometimes.

  14. Eduardo 30 novembre 2016 at 21 h 01 min - Reply

    I’ve come across this morning with António, a Vila Real bookseller, a rare specimen that heroically resists the cracks in the book territory, a promised land for many of us that observe life as a continuous act of close (not escapist) reading of the self and the other. The book shop is called Traga-Mundos. The word « traga » is semantically ambivalent. It may be associated to the verb « tragar », meaning eating/ingesting or the verb « trazer », carrying/transporting. Combined with the word « Mundo » (World) the name of the book shop can be associated to food (Ingesting-Worlds) or to transportation (Carrying-Worlds), but implying the idea of delivering a gift (Giving-Worlds). The basement of the shop, filled with shells and books, is a tiny dark space illuminated by two or three old yellow bulbs. Sometimes a group of young people called « Calhau » (Pebble) makes there poem reading sessions. But since age doesn’t count, I’ve been there quite a few times. I remember to have read poems by Tomas Tranströmer, a laureate nobel of some years ago.
    Thanking António and the light that comes out of his book shop, I better leave you with two Tranströmer poems

    Slow Music

    The building not open today. The sun crowds in through the
    and warms the upper side of the desk
    which is strong enough to bear the fate of others.
    Today we are outdoors, on the long wide slope.
    Some have dark clothes. If you stand in the sun, and shut your
    you feel as if you were being slowly blown forward.
    I come too seldom down to the sea. But now I have come,
    among good-sized stones with peaceful backs.
    The stones have been gradually walking backwards out of the

    The Blue House

    It is night with glaring sunshine. I stand in the woods and look towards my house with its misty blue walls. As though I were recently dead and saw the house from a new angle.
    It has stood for more than eighty summers. Its timber has been impregnated, four times with joy and three times with sorrow. When someone who has lived in the house dies it is repainted. The dead person paints it himself, without a brush, from the inside.
    On the other side is open terrain. Formerly a garden, now wilderness. A still surf of weed, pagodas of weed, an unfurling body of text, Upanishades of weed, a Viking fleet of weed, dragon heads, lances, an empire of weed.
    Above the overgrown garden flutters the shadow of a boomerang, thrown again and again. It is related to someone who lived in the house long before my time. Almost a child. An impulse issues from him, a thought, a thought of will: “create. . .draw. ..” In order to escape his destiny in time.
    The house resembles a child’s drawing. A deputizing childishness which grew forth because someone prematurely renounced the charge of being a child. Open the doors, enter! Inside unrest dwells in the ceiling and peace in the walls. Above the bed there hangs an amateur painting representing a ship with seventeen sails, rough sea and a wind that the gilded frame cannot subdue.
    It is always so early in here, it is before the crossroads, before the irrevocable choices. I am grateful for this life! And yet I miss the alternatives. All sketches wish to be real.
    A motor far out on the water extends the horizon of the summer night. Both joy and sorrow swell in the magnifying glass of the dew. We do not actually know it, but we sense it: our life has a sister vessel which plies an entirely different route. While the sun burns behind the islands.

  15. Guillaume 30 novembre 2016 at 19 h 20 min - Reply

    Dropping all hope is seeing the cracks. Yesterday afternoon I had an image that popped in my mind of my feet suddenly touching some ground and my body standing on it, stable. It was like I’d been swimming in water, making efforts to stay afloat, decided to stop swimming, and found stability in the moving water rather than drowned. Hope is an idea of how things could be better in the future. When I have hope, I’m moving away from what’s right here, right now. Despair is also an idea about the future, that nothing will ever be good again. Despair is tempting, I like it. Dropping all hope is tricky because hope easily comes back. I start with some realization about dropping hope and start thinking about how this seems like a deep and nice thing and how I can do that and be happy again, and out of nowhere I find myself filled with hope again. The cycle of hope and despair starts anew, but I’m growing tired of it. I’ve to be vigilant.

  16. MM 30 novembre 2016 at 19 h 15 min - Reply

    What’s the importance of getting wet (by)/in the rain?

    You’re gonna splish-splash anyway.

  17. Joa 30 novembre 2016 at 18 h 53 min - Reply

    Hi everyone,

    Suddenly I stopped what I was doing and realized it was already day III of this retreat. The first day, I thought I would write something later – but that later never happened because one thing led to another and I just didn’t take the time. And yesterday, I was so absorbed with my work that I simply forgot about it all – even forgot about the retreat itself.

    So I paused for a moment. What happened? How is this possible?

    I am so glad to have a set-up to remind me of this – to come back to the present moment, to enjoy every moment, to remain in the now. The set-up: the center, the practice, the teachings… And endless wave coming back to the shore.

  18. Brigitte Donnet Guez 30 novembre 2016 at 15 h 18 min - Reply

    Good afternoon everybody

    I so much wrote ‘beautiful things’ according my own estimation… it’s like I don’t need more.
    So what ? i am juste coming back from the dentist, even my tooth has a crack !
    answering now to my students ‘s mails, having a break, might be a crack too some way, and appreciate them (trying…)
    have everyone a beautiful sunny day in your heart, as we have in the sky of Paris.

  19. margarida 30 novembre 2016 at 15 h 09 min - Reply

    yesterday the sun was shining here in Esposende, i was cleaning the house and burning my food, then i taught yoga and after the sitting period i knitted. i get out of bed very late today, the sky is grey with dense clouds and possibly it will rain later on, but the sun shines through them now and ten. i wanted to post a picture of a ceramic plate i painted twenty years ago…its a white circle with black lines..i exposed then, all the cracks he had.
    Morning Star

  20. Óscar Faria 30 novembre 2016 at 14 h 13 min - Reply

    Bobote. I remind a night with him, some years ago, after a flamenco show, in Serralves museum, Porto. He is a “bailaor”, a dancer, born in the borough of the Tree Hundred, in Seville, Andalusia. During the 80’s, Bobote was involved in the Spanish rock scene, with the group Veneno (“Poison”). During that dinner, after a beautiful night of songs and choreographies, Bobote laughed and make all of us happy. He is also one of the friends of Israel Galván – “dancer of solitudes”, as a philosopher as called him – a extraordinary flamenco performer. A few years ago, in 2013, Galván created a show that was a tribute to the gypsies victims of the Holocaust. During the creative process, he said he was inspired by the song “Hitler in my heart”, written by Antony, today Anohni, particularly with the line:

    “from the corpses flowers grow”

    The spectacle, “The Real”, where Bobote also performs, was badly received during it’s premiere, in Madrid. Galván says, in a interview published by The Guardian, that the reason for this could be related with his decision to tell this story, the persecution and killing of gypsy people, through flamenco. And adds:“When I’m performing, I can’t be thinking about the past or worrying about the future. I’m always in the present moment on stage, free to be anything I want. A different world opens up.”

    Today, my thoughts, my heart, are with the gypsies, with Bobote, with whom I spent a wonderful night some years ago.

    From the cracks wild flowers grow


  21. Hugo 30 novembre 2016 at 12 h 19 min - Reply

    Evening light from Perth, Western Australia. Sun fading away. Christmas lights are on. Ben almost sleeping. We sing in Portuguese and English. Rhyme time. Some birds outside. Silence. Food conforting my stomach. A plain. Where are they going? Who is inside? Tears in my eyes. An eye infection joins me in retreat.

  22. Miguel Carmo 30 novembre 2016 at 11 h 56 min - Reply

    good morning all,
    stars and cracks of the world.
    these last days this saying from Rumi is coming again and again, remembering of course those of Leonard that Amy brings again and again for today, for now. And sometimes it allows me a sense of integration, of wholeness, being with it, being it.
    « Don’t turn away. Keep your gaze on the bandaged place. That’s where the light enters you.  » I ask myself, what is a crack…
    and stay with it… and sometimes light appears.

  23. Tiago 30 novembre 2016 at 11 h 50 min - Reply

    Good morning from London where Mr. Frost has come to live.
    Today’s inspiring post and quote speak volumes to me!
    On one hand, I work with cracked stuff all day long — I am a pottery/porcelain restorer; seeing cracks is my day-do-day activity. It is the question of actually seeing them for what they are that makes the difference. I once said « I fix cracks », which is not entirely true… In technical terms the crack is still there even after I finish restoring it; it has ‘healed’ but the pot is still cracked, exactly as it is. In Japan, the approach is similar but they chose to enhance the crack by filling it with gold rather than adding layers of ‘makeup’.
    On the other hand, the cracks of life are everywhere and as Amy’s been saying; we don’t always see them, or pay enough attention to see them properly. Brexit, unemployment, looking for work, vulnerability, (inter-)dependence, death, sickness — these are those I actually see today.
    It’s all interconnected. How to be aware of the ‘crackness’ of life, locally, now?

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