Over the years, all sorts of Sentient Beings have come to sit meditation at the Blue Lotus Sangha, and even though we meet on a small, rather insulated college campus, the community around campus walls is also invited to sit.
Word of mouth and a few posters sprinkled in shop windows ensures that the word is on the street; there is a place to sit in silence, there is a place to share the dharma and meet others on the path, there is a place where "All are welcome!"
Indeed, in this town, all are welcome in many places. For a small community, services and opportunities for those struggling with insufficient housing, food, finances, unemployment and the terrors of abuse are in abundance. Carlisle is the County Seat, so it is a natural environment for community services, but there is something unique about this town that invites a particular compassion.
It may be because there is a church on every corner, a church of every stripe. It may be that two major Pennsylvania highways bisect here, and those who wander know through the grapevine that this is a town where you can get a hot meal and a sleeping bag on the floor of one of those churches.
Or perhaps the College, a small oasis of liberalism, has energy that is far reaching enough to make a difference.
In any case, no one lives on the street in this town unless it is by choice. No one goes hungry, unless they have not yet connected with the food banks and soup kitchens, or found the young men at the Square who gather on Wednesdays to give food away from boxes--their mantra is Food, Not Bombs!
This week's sit was relatively spare, perhaps due to crunch time for students at the College. But several community members attended, joined by someone new, seemingly fresh off the dusty highway.
Although I know he has been in town for some time, S has the look of someone who has been wandering on the open road; his hands and face, exposed to wind and sun, are ruddy and deeply burnished, weathered. He comes to sit with a tattered khaki knapsack that has seen is share of travels. And he is a bit like a frightened deer, turning his head quickly from side to side to really get a look at everything around him, tallying the information unconsciously, instantly--friend or foe?
But like another man who came to sit four years ago, who also dusted off the open road and the day of random work found here and there, and who still comes to sit regularly, S will find a way to settle in here if he stays long enough, and that settling, rather than being a noose around his neck, will allow for liberation.
S comes in, bringing a cushion he has procured somewhere along the line. He has stashed his knapsack and sneakers on the edge of the room, and pads around in his stocking feet, twisting his head, eyes a bit wide and surprised-looking. He settles on the floor directly in front of me, a few feet away, and to his credit, is able to simply abide, though I know this is not easy, because he's given me a litany of all the medications he is on and how the management of his disability is a full time job...it really is something of a miracle that he is here, now.
But ohhhh those socks of his!
I doesn't take long to realize that they stink to high heaven and have not been washed for quite some time! I look around our circle and wonder who else is getting a good whiff. I have a nose like a beagle, but judging from squinched-up faces, others are also in the path of those stinky socks.
All within a few seconds, thoughts come racing back of a pair of hiking boots I once owned that smelled so bad after wear, that I had to leave them outdoors when not in use. My feet had sweated buckets, and frankly, stunk. I had the ability to purchase a new pair of boots, which I eventually did, once it became obvious that no amount of foot powder would make a difference--did S have that same luxury?
I found myself wondering where those feet had walked, and what they had enabled S to do. And finally, I thought of Thick Nhat Hanh's reference to the beautiful rose that grows from the pile of odorous manure--how do we keep one and discard the other when they are so intimately and obviously entwined?
The stinking, oozy dark mud of the pond nurtures and loves the lotus seed, and the lotus seed loves the murk, without reservation or discrimination, and proves that love over and over again by sending the flower stalk upward through the water to the brilliant surface where the sun takes over and loves the bud, the buddha, into unfolding at its own pace, in its own time, blooming finally in all it's glory for all the universe to admire.
Even the stinky socks are Buddha!