That’s how the light gets in


In anticipation of seeing Leonard Cohen again tonight, his music has become my constant companion on my commute to and from work.  The other day I had a bit of an epiphany while listening to the refrain from his song “Anthem”:

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

A couple of posts ago, I used a rather long and graphic metaphor of my past traumas and emotional hurts being like a wound – at first it’s bloody and oozing, (and possibly pustulant) and then moving on to a crusty scab and finally to mere scar tissue.  And as much fun as that was to write (because who, after all, doesn’t enjoy the word “pustulant”?),  now I think I was wrong.

Like most everybody, I find a certain comfort in thinking that there can be certain recipes, certain prescribed steps that one must take in order achieve whatever it is you want to achieve, whether your goals be mundane or sacred. Back in my New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) days, I chanted “The Stages of the Path” several times a week. And while the tune was quite saccharine, there was comfort in knowing there was a path and if I worked very hard and was a good little Kadampa, I could progress along that path and eventually become enlightened. And while I wasn’t very far along the path,  I sure as hell was well acquainted with the map and how to get there.

When it came to my relationship with my past, I think I was falling into the same trap of thinking that there was this inherent path to perfect healing.  Step one: regurgitate all your painful memories and trauma and present on a platter to your mental health professional.  Step two:  work together with said mental health professional to take all the pieces of your psychic jig saw puzzle and make it whole.  Step three: having put Humpty Dumpty back together again, move on with your life.

Part of the problem with these paths, I’m starting to realize, is that there is this assumption that where you are right now is not good enough since, after all, you haven’t made it yet to your destination. It doesn’t take into account the beauty of our flaws, our vulnerabilities, that tender desire to simply be happy. So, the other day, when I heard that lyric

Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

it occurred to me that our most Buddha-like quality – our compassion – does not come from our perfection, but rather from our cracks, our broken places, the holes in our heart.  So, why would I want to completely to seal my psychic wounds with scar tissue? How would my light get in (or out)?

Of course, all this is not to say there isn’t spiritual progression or movement towards healing.  There is. Yet, there is nothing wrong with this moment, whether I’m feeling whole or feeling the hole in my heart.

3 responses »

  1. Dude ~ this is so rite ON ! I got won from the BuddhaFilmFest happening over here at the Rafael ( ) “We can’t move forward if we don’t look back”

    When I put this together with your Cohen lyric it all kinda makes sense. We need the history of lineage of experience for structure and direction, but the “path” is always unique to each of us ~ or ~ it can’t be our authentic path. Moving forward means breaking new ground not just following in the footsteps of the Masters (tho in the case of true Masters this is inevitable since to become a true Master you must deal with all aspects of human experience).

    So if moving forward requires looking back then the only place to do that is from where we are right now. Another way of saying this: Right now is the perfect place for looking at our past imperfections and toward our unknown future. What is the “PATH” other than this?

    The poetry of Cohen says it best of all = the are no perfect offerings ~ so forgeddaboutit ~ just know that there are always gonna be cracks = until they aint.

  2. Great post LB. Wonderful analysis of Cohen’s line.
    I think I’ll forward it to my little Deistette who sometimes gets down on herself about not being perfect.
    Wish she could see all the light coming out of those cracks that I do.

  3. Your interpretation is good. Certainly works.

    However, I have always had a slightly different take on this stanza. I always felt it referred to the truth of things. The crack in everything was more like the flaw in the universe through which we could glimpse the truth. It’s always seemed very clear to me to be about the illusory nature of reality. The light is the truth, the crack is like insight wisdom and ‘everything’ is the whole lie or illusion of the real world. ‘Ring the bells that still can ring’ was a call to find truths that work, wisdom realising emptiness. ‘Forget your perfect offering’ – don’t waste your time with appearances, meaningless ritual. ‘there is a crack in everything’ – if you look hard enough you’ll see that things are not as they seem. ‘That’s how the light gets in’ – behind the great lie and illusion of reality you can glimpse truth, freedom, happiness and liberation.

    We may both be right, of course, which is a measure of how great a song it is.

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