Monday, March 26, 2007

Water, Mountains, ice

In my last post, I promised we would discuss some earthy matters. Since then there has been a brief hiatus in which I attended to family matters, which consisted mostly of walking the famous dog isabel with my wife and generally laying around doing nothing.

There was the small matter of- believe it, oh ye incredulous ones!- a second dream, on Saturday night, in which I was in a house that was moved off its foundations to be relocated. This recurrence, which was not exactly the same dream, is just too unlikely and unreasonable to contemplate. So we will leave it for another blog, where dream issues and issuances can be addressed in greater depth.

Back to the rocks.

Near my house, there is a large glacial erratic, lying more or less at the base of the Palisades. in the Sparkill notch. (Yup, that's it, rat thar in the picture.) This erratic is composed of pegmatite, that is, a coarse-grained amalgamation of quartz, feldspar, and other crystalline substances. In this particular case, the pegmatite has smoky quartz and is shot through with schorl (massive black tourmaline. ) It is almost the size of a small car.


It's sobering to consider that rocks of this size were light work for glaciers. There are glacial erratics nearby that are, quite literally, the size of houses.

Rocks like this are called erratics because they have absolutely nothing to do with the surrounding bedrock. We now know (as people in earlier times, i.e. before they conceived of ice ages, did not) that it's certain this rock was carried many miles before it ended up where it is; it probably came from somewhere north in Connecticut (where pegmatites are relatively abundant,) or perhaps even further away.

All of this is a testimonial to the tremendous transformational power of our landscape. What we see seems to be static, yet it is in a constant state of change. It never looked before like it looks now, and it will never look this way again. In our brief lives, there may appear to be continuity here, but that is completely illusory.

Life works in exactly the same way for us. In fact, I often see strong analogies between geologic processes and the processes of life itself. From age to age, from infancy through childhood, into adolescence, young adulthood, adulthood and beyond, we build our individual mountain ranges of assumptions and beliefs and desires. These mountain ranges, like the mountains on the planet, are built by the intersection of massive forces, places where what we might call plates collide.

Here lies the tectonics of the soul. Our inner world collides with the outer world; mountains are pushed up, oceans filled with water, rivers flow, and weather systems emerge.

As we age, erosion takes place; every inner range we push up, ever hoping for a loftier view, is subject to forces beyond its control. We even use expressions like, "life is wearing me down," acknowledging that we are engaged in such a process. Parts of us explode, like magmatic eruptions. Other parts get ground down into sand and solidify in layers. Some parts harden and sit on our surface, forming an impermeable skin that prevents the water of our life from flowing into us. We form cracks, smooth places, and roughnesses. Taken together, all of this, which we refer to as personality, is the surface of our planet.

Every being is a reflection of this. Every process at every level in the universe is a fragment of the same complete truth. If we use our minds to ponder, we will invariably find that no matter where we look, no matter what we try to understand about ourselves, ultimately nature explains everything.

This analogy could be drawn a million times in a million different ways and it would continue to be valid, because reality is a fractal structure. The smallest part of reality is an exact model of all of reality.

As these tectonic, magmatic, and glacial life-processes take place, we end up with our own inner erratics; chunks of life sitting in places that they don't seem to belong, and are not in relationship with the surroundings. Everyone has parts like this; parts that are inappropriate in the context of current life. For example, we may be adolescently egoistic, or childishly grasping. The parts that are inappropriate, like the pegmatite erratic we are discussing, are fascinating and beautiful, so we don't stop to consider their lack of relationship. They are also big and heavy, difficult to move. In some senses, like the large boulders left behind by ice, we have to work around them. The landscape we inherit from our past has to be accepted. The amount of energy that it would take to rearrange it is probably not worth what we would get out of it.

Hence the advice:

When the rocks are big, go around them

Expanding the question, we come once again to Dogen's sutra of mountains and water, which is found in the Shobogenzo. This sutra is an absolutely towering piece of work which stands alone as one of the world's great religious texts. It is a brief piece; everyone interested in spiritual work ought to read it at least once per lifetime.

One of the things that strikes me about this piece is the way the Dogen explains we think the mountains will be populated by other people, but when we go into them, it is just us and the mountains. Not even the trace of our passage into the mountains remains behind us.

The mountains are God; in the end, every aspect of life, all of the events and everything that transpires, are all pointed towards one final moment where we enter the mountains--and there is no one there to accompany us.

Life's mountains are vast and magnificent; we are very tiny little creatures.

In every meditation, if I find the right relationship, I enter the mountains, even if only the foothills. There I see that there is no one but myself, and the mountains.

In fact, perhaps there is only the mountains. There is no "I," there is only truth.

And the way to the truth is through the heart.

As I point myself towards the inevitable fact of my own death, I ponder the question of water and mountains. I think about the ice that freezes within me and pushes me through my life, rearranging my inner landscape.

I think about what I could do to bring enough warmth into me to melt some of that force.

God bless all of you today. May your trees bear fruit and your wells yield water!


1 comment:

  1. "when the rocks are big, go around them"

    or, 'fez lez lou'

    might this have anything to do with tacking, the sailing term?


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