June 12 – To Count by Touching – Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening
We need to count by touching not by adding and subtracting.
When we count with our eyes, we stall the heart. For the eyes can see clearly what is broken without ever feeling the break, and the mind can calculate the loss without ever sewing up the wound. Without touching the life coming apart before us, we can race to rebuild before the wrecked dream ever hits the ground. While this makes us resilient and efficient as ants, it also keeps us from ever living in what we build.
Alas, what makes us precise and efficient can also begin a life of neurosis: not touching what we see, not feeling what we know. This is how the mind skips the heart’s step. How we forget that blood on the news is real, that the cry from the street is attached to something living.
I remember walking after rib surgery to find a dear friend at the foot of my bed. I was elated to have arrived on the other side and called to her, but she was starting off. I knew in that instant she was already mourning me, and so she missed me coming alive. She was already preparing for life without me, and so, the deeper closeness awaiting us was never felt or worn. We think we protect ourselves by taking inventory and moving on, but we only spin our web tighter.
Recently, another friend had a dream in which we were building a home with sturdy shelves, but couldn’t keep the numbers in her head. She had to go over and count the shelves by touching each one. Mysteriously, as she did this, the shelves kept multiplying. Her touch made more shelves possible.
Such a profound and simple lesson: to count with our hands brings us deeper than all counting. Then numbers give way to notes, and sums give way to song.