A few days ago, during my spring solstice meditation (Every Solstice, a friend and I tend to dedicate an entire evening, usually into the wee hours of the morning, to focused meditation), I stopped for a few minutes to read some Hafiz. In case you do not know Hafiz, he was a Persian poet, not unlike Rumi in his greatness. Though a few of his poems stroke me particularly deeply that evening, this one resonated to my core, and has been with me since.
On the Shoulder
Wow, it still hits me strongly. No matter what your version of God is (in my case, it is a form of universal connection between all things), the depth of these words are profound. The patience, love, and respect we can all develop, by respecting all beings, is simply awe inspiring. Imagine if the next time you were out in the world, you were as equally generous with kindness to strangers as with your friends and family?
The poem, and this vision of kindness, reminds me of the story of the Buddha and an untouchable named Sunita. In ancient India, the untouchables were the lowest caste in the Hindu caste system. They were the wretched, the poor, the diseased. They cleaned toilets, did the hardest work, and were prohibited from entering Hindu temples. If they were heard reciting prayers, their tongues were cut out. It was the worst imaginable existence. But the Buddha did not care.
In the story of Sunita the untouchable, the Buddha approached him, and said “My friend, please come closer so that we may talk”.
Sunita, his palms still joined, protested. “Lord, I do not dare!”
“Why not?” asked the Buddha.
“I am an untouchable. I do not want to pollute you and your monks.”
The Buddha replied, “on our path, we no longer distinguish between castes. You are a human being like us. We are not afraid we will be polluted. Only greed, hatred, and delusion can pollute us.”
What an extraordinary moment in Sunita’s life. Until that moment, he had been treated as inferior, barely better than an animal, his whole life. Can you picture the feeling of empowerment and kindness he felt in that moment? What a difference that must have made to him.
For some reason, however, the imagery of the elephant and the ant speaks to me on a deeper level. Maybe it is because I enjoy the picture of an elephant patiently waiting for an ant to cross his path. Maybe it’s because I have been both at various points in my life.
At this moment, I am reminded of the days when I show patience to others less fortunate. The days when I buy something extra at the grocery store, just to share with the homeless couple outside on the street.
I am also reminded of the times when I judge others who look different, who maybe don’t look quite right, who are poor, or drive too fancy a vehicle, or don’t speak with correct grammar, or who wear t-shirts with silly sayings on them like “I’m with stupid.” I am reminded of those times when I have been an elephant stepping on an ant, and god has abruptly left my shoulder. I am reminded that I am very often ruled by my judgments, and only now do I see that the effect of being stepped on can often times compound a particularly unfortunate situation.
I meditated on this poem for quote some time the night of the spring solstice, and I think it has brought more patience into me. Who knows, I will probably fall more along the way, but I hope that I learn to share my steps with all others on my path.
Maybe my version of god will bloom on my shoulder?
Who knows, maybe he already has.
If you have the chance, and want to experience this special connection, take some time with this poem. Find yourself a nice comfortable spot, where you like to meditate. Close your eyes, and breathe naturally. Review the poem in your mind, slowly going over each line. Consider what each word, each line means to you. What does God mean? If you saw your version of God, how would that look? Would it be an intermingled connection between all things, or a deity in the classic sense? Maybe God is love, and Love is to bloom on your shoulder.
Continue to breathe and consider the parts, and the entirety of the poem. Can you imagine a monstrous elephant, stomping through the jungle, through the plains, diving into the mud and spraying itself with water? How does this elephant look from the perspective of an ant? Can you imagine the immensity of this beautiful, massive animal bearing down on the tiny construction worker? Imagine how it would feel, to see an elephant bearing down on you, only to stop its immense foot from crushing you, and giving you the right of way. Imagine if you were the elephant, lifting an ant up on your trunk for closer inspection, and placing it gently back on the ground.
Imagine what it would be like to treat all those around you with the same gentleness, respect, and courtesy. Take your time and sit in the visualization of a day dedicated entirely to kindness and respect.
Can you imagine the joy you would bring to others?