March 14 – Ancient Friends – Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening
“One climbs, one sees. One descends, one sees no longer, but one has seen. There is an art in conducting oneself in lower regions by memory of what one has seen higher up. When one can no longer see, one can at least still know. ” Rene Daumal
In the 700’s in the Tang Dynasty in China, the poet Li P wrote what is now a famous poem, “Letter in Exile.” It is for his “ancient friend,” So-Kin of Rakuyo. In the poem, we learn that the two have been deep, lifelong friends, though they have only been together a handful of times. By the end, Li Po is awash with his old friend’s presence: “What is the use of talking, and there is no end of talking. There is no ends of things in the heart.”
We are moved to ask how it is possible: they have spent more time apart than together. Yet the presence of a friend like this can shape one’s entire life. If blessed, we have one, or maybe, if wealthy in blessings, two friends like this during our time on Earth. It’s as if Li Po and So-Kin are stars in each other’s constellation, brief but enduring points of light. The difficulty then has always been how to make it across the dark from point of light to point of light. This is the province of faith, the preservation of presence when we are not lighted.
This friendship itself is a metaphor for another kind of friendship, our lifetime kinship with Truth, with Love, with Unity, with God. Like Li Po without So-Kin, we may spend much of our time unaware and unenlightened, yet the presence of Truth and God, like a deep and ancient friend, can shape our entire lives. So the inner task becomes how do we make a lasting friendship with the Unities that are larger than us? How do we keep their light in our heart when no stars appear in sight?