Friday, May 25, 2007
This morning, my wife and I were walking the famous dog Isabel down to the Hudson at 6 a.m., when I was struck by the sight of two mockingbirds landing on a utility wire.
"Something truly extraordinary must have happened on this planet," I remarked, "in order for reptiles to have grown wings and taken flight."
In the process of transformation on earth, absolutely remarkable things have taken place. In this particular case, scaly, earthbound creatures transformed their outer coating -- that is, their tough, stiff protective scales -- into refined, delicate, airy new structures called feathers. If there ever was a more extraordinary transformation, it's hard to think of it. The nature of the transformation, when combined with further coordinated changes in physiology, specifically metabolism and bone structure, allowed these creatures to transcend their earthbound origins and move into the skies.
In the process, they separated from each other so completely that their original relationship became obscured. When mankind arose, his mythology incorporated them as opposing entities: on the one hand, the snake, the dragon-- evil, poisonous, scaly creatures of the nether regions. On the other hand, the Eagle, the Peacock, the dove-- elegant creatures that soar above us, embodying noble qualities that we earthbound organisms can only aspire to.
In our cultural and scientific infancy, we were unable to see the connection -- that these creatures are cousins to one another, two ends of a single stick bound together through time by a force we call evolution. Without reptiles, there could be no birds. So convinced were we that no such relationship could exist that we ultimately went so far as to negate and erase their origins in our science, creating yet another myth:
the dinosaurs are extinct.
Now we know that the dinosaurs, those lumbering, toothy, carnivorous beasts that seem to come up from the very depths of our collective unconscious itself, are still with us. They have transformed themselves from the creatures of our nightmares to animals that populate much sweeter dreams. Instead of claws that rend and tear, teeth that bite, they offer us songs that lift the soul.
Perhaps we are equally mistaken about the lower nature of man. Do we measure its potential correctly? It's true that we are violent, nasty, dangerous creatures, but can the scaly, hardened scutes of ego we cover ourselves with open-- to breathe, to let air flow through them, and to lift us up, instead of weighing us down in the soil of our worldly attachments?
Perhaps the idea is too romantic. Then again, as I often maintain, perhaps every lesson we need to learn, every intuition we need to have, is already present before us in the lessons of nature.
As I consider the trees, half of whose existence is lived in dark regions we cannot see and do not know, I realize that they draw half of their sustenance, all of their stability, much of their nourishment, from these parts that tap into the marrow of mother Earth. In the same way, we need our lower in nature to anchor us.
Consider it an investment, to see how we are animals. As we discover the humility of being a part of organic life on Earth, we open the doors to the sky and, like the birds, grow feathers, learn to fly.
In Dogen's Shobogenzo, there is a chapter called "Hokke Ten Hokke." "Hokke" means "The wonderful universe, which is like flowers itself." The word "Ten" means to turn.
So this chapter is entitled, roughly speaking, "wonderful universal flowers turning wonderful universal flowers."
At the very end of the chapter, the last two lines state, "the past was exhalation and inhalation, and the present is exhalation and inhalation. This we should maintain and rely upon as the flower of Dharma which is too fine to think about." (quoted from the Nishijima and Cross translation, Dogen Sangha.)
Every thing is like this, my friends. When you are hungry, seek this food. As we go forward over this Memorial Day weekend, let us remember the present as exhalation and inhalation, and hope that our flowers open and bloom,
...with the assistance and blessings of God.
May your trees bear fruit, and your wells yield water.
love to all,
Monday, May 21, 2007
During the winter, I felt as though the darkness of the early morning were eternal. Each morning I would rise between 5 and 5:30 in the darkness and in silence, I would drink my morning coffee, and then I would sit. The whole world seemed intensely private at that hour. It was as though there were nothing but that darkness and the silence of sitting.
I came to love this moment.
At this same time, the trees were bare, the air was cold, and everything seemed as though it would be that way for ever. I adopted to the winter in an almost animal fashion, understanding it in some peculiar way as the only condition that there was. And indeed, it was true-- for each of those moments that was all there was. It was the act of investing in it as a completeness that did not admit of any memory of spring or summer that created this inner feeling of a clean, cold, perfect and eternal winter.
There was nothing romantic about this. It was simply the fact of living within what we call winter.
When the weather began to change, it was a tremendous shock to me. Counterintuitively-- after all, this is that wonderful moment called spring when everything is supposed to be perfect --I resented the intrusion of daylight into the early morning hours. The warming of the air and the greening of branches and trees was a further shock; winter, that now intensely internal quality which I had inhabited, was changing. What was this about?
I returned from China and I am surrounded by green trees whose greenness and lushness and fullness falls into me like stones into a well. The lush colors of the trees and flowers and the sounds of the birds are substantial, material, edible.
I have had to change to adjust to this. I feel like I am inhabiting an alien universe that I never knew before, where things are growing in this manner. So the whole act of winter turning into spring has become a very different experience for me, and the fact that these impressions are actually a kind of food is felt and sensed more intensely than ever.
Yes, it's true. Perhaps I am merely the victim of some unusual psychic malady, a mild form of psychosis that causes me to see the world in an alienated fashion. I don't think so however. I think this is more a matter of the impressions falling more deeply in the body, reaching places where the assumptions do not dwell. And there are such places in us, make no mistake -- places that do not know what summer or winter is, but that know much larger things our mind is unable to grasp.
We really don't see how our life is food. How impressions are food. Not in some conceptual way: I mean to really see it with the organism itself.
There is a wiseness in this kind of eating that cannot be tinkered with by the conceptual mind. When we are told that impressions are food, we see only the shadow of what is true, and not the truth itself. Different parts need to receive this understanding for us to see more than a shadow, which is what the mind's conception of it is.
This reminds me of today's morning walk with the famous dog Isabel. I saw her shadow and I realized that when we discuss that famous Zen koan of the dog having Buddha nature, of course we can't know the answer.
How can we know the nature of the dog, when all we ever see is the dog's shadow?
May your wells yield water; may your trees drink it; may they yield fruit;
May your fruit, when pressed, yield wine.
Saturday, May 19, 2007
My trip to China is over. Jet lag is in season.
I woke up this morning at 3 :17 a.m. and spent over an hour lying awake in bed, studying the nature of breathing and its living connection to the root of the spine and the abdomen.
Moments of stillness and darkness in the very early morning are good times for the examination of such questions. In such moments, I find, the distracting, associative part is quiescent and it becomes possible to observe parts that are ordinary far more obscured.
This is not to say no reasoning intelligence can manifest itself. While I was invested in this objectively fortuitous set of circumstances, I recalled a few things from my trip which I have not had a chance to jot down yet.
The other day, while I was sitting, I realized that part of our difficult with inner resistance is that we view it much too theoretically.
It is very important to go right up against this question from a direct and practical angle; I need to see that the resistance is in me. Sittings are a good place to do this.
It may sounds obvious to say that but if we investigate our inner state carefully I believe we see that we don't think we "are the resistance." Or we think that the resistance is located somewhere within the psychology of our state, rather than the whole state itself, which includes everything, not just the psychology.
Resistance springs from this thing called "I" through which my experience is filtered. So as "I" experience resistance I am the resistance. Perhaps there is a whole understanding within this concept about what "self-observation" is for.
Take a look at this for a while and get back to me on what you think, if you like.
This brings us to the idea of corrective lenses.
All of our thoughts are a set of corrective lenses. It is as if reality as it is isn't good enough for us; it needs adjustment. So instead of inhabiting the actual conditions that we encounter, we inhabit the view of them we create by wearing corrective lenses. The interpretation.
These lenses are not like eyeglasses, which we are conscious of wearing. They are like contacts- intimate, and so transparent that after we adopt to them we have absolutely no idea whatsoever that we are wearing them.
Except, of course, that once in a while they make our eyes water...
The question becomes one of how to inhabit much more directly the conditions we find ourselves in. Understanding that our interpretation of events is always distorted by our corrective lenses.
That requires an immediate, organic presence.
May your trees bear fruit, and your wells yield water.
with love to you all, known and unknown,
Saturday, May 12, 2007
Elapsed time remaining
We live by wall-bound shadows,
Scraps of errant noise,
And a ticking, tocking, lorelei refrain.
Let's drop facades and clothing,
Savor foreign tongues:
Take golden breaths in, deep
Fill wells with nectar.
Let's drop facades and clothing,
When wanton, wind-blown sorrows come-
Drink fearless, everdeep, and taste
A fiery dervish bliss which gives no quarter.
It's out there where we least expect it;
Hid beneath what look like rocks
With worms, and unburnt salamanders.
Why look for God?
You know for sure he's down there, too,
Still bare-ass-naked like a child.
What say?- Let's rush to join Him
Dip toes in moist dark loam.
There is not much elapsed time
Wednesday, May 9, 2007
Yesterday and today I am traveling in China. Above is a bit of the landscape around West lake in Hangzhou.
It's more difficult to work under conditions of jet lag- the body is of course not functioning according to norms-, but one must try.
So, in the mornings, I have been trying to study the inner condition in relationship to the question of repose. Below some thoughts gleaned from this effort.
We must work very carefully, I find, with a specific kind of inner attention, on the study of the intersection between our inner and our outer conditions.
By inner contions is meant the state of our organism, including the tensions and receptivity of our organism.
By outer conditions is meant this immediate set of inflowing impressions, or, these immediate conditions.
In seeking a state within these immediate conditions, first we must find ourselves within immediate conditions. If there is no active inner correspondence to immediate conditions, then there is no state. So first we attempt to find ourselves within these conditions, according to the intentions and inner availability of the organism. .
This effort is the dividing line between Being and lack of Being. To find and observe one's self within the vibration of immediate conditions is called Seeing.
Once we see that we are in fact within these conditions, we can ask ourselves what it means to be within in a state of relationship to the conditions.
State is dependent on organism. Connection to the organism offers the possibility of another state.
Within the organism is the possibility of repose within immediate conditions. We could also call this inhabiting the conditions. Inhabiting the conditions is an organic function, which our psychology, our mentation, distracts us from.
One of our mistakes is our tendency to try to understand our psychology instead of our organism. This is like trying to understand the car only from the point of view of the speed it travels at. The target is ephemeral and transient, an effect, not a cause.
Psychology is a product of the organism. Only in the most abstract sense possible is the organism a product of psychology. If we seek the organic origins of psychology we may penetrate at the root, instead of trimming the leaves.
Repose is a function of both peripheral sensation and the collection of intelligent sensation within the organic centers. The more we return to this, the more we cultivate repose.
In repose, more seeing is possible, because impressions penetrate deeper into the organism.
There are inherent qualities discoverable in the act of investment in repose that can be fed through breath and a precise inner attention. These qualities consist of varying rates of vibration.
Repose deepens the question and allows us to study those vibrations, where they arise, what feeds them, in greater detail.
Above all we wish to receive our life, this daily bread. Repose is an assistant in this matter.
May your trees bear fruit, and your wells yield water.
Monday, May 7, 2007
The essential nature of vessels is found within their emptiness. We identify vessels through their outer form- which may give us an indicator as to their purpose- but it isn't the outer form that determines what a vessel is. A vessel is, at its heart, only one thing, and that is a container.
Containers come in varying sizes. One container may be used to hold air; another, a liquid, and yet another something solid. The character of some vessels is to produce resonance; for others, to offer repose. Still others become crucibles for reactions.
Whatever the charachter and purpose of the vessel, its chief defining feature ought to be seen for what it is: emptiness.
We can all easily see how silly it would be for the jar to think it was the wine, or the pot the corn; yet don't all of us make that same mistake? In the process of what Gurdjieff called identification, our consciousness habitually mistakes itself for its contents. Buddhist non-attachment is chiefly a practice of trying to find repose within the emptiness of the vessel, rather than engagement with its contents.
We are not what flows into the vessel. We are the experience of what flows into the vessel. In understanding this we see that our essential nature is one born of, and built on, relationship itself, and not the results of relationship. Results of relationship are secondary. It is the very movement into and out of relationship itself that creates what we call Being.
This simple truth is a difficult hurdle. We are so committed to being the event that we fail to participate in the event of Being.
I am back in China now, and off to Ningbo and Hangzhou this morning.
May your flowers bloom in this morning's sun, and your nectar flow abundantly!
Love to you all,
Saturday, May 5, 2007
We are vessels into which the world flows.
What does this mean?
Vessels are physical things; they hold material. In the famous parable, Christ said that you cannot pour new wine into old bottles; this "old bottle" of our Being as it stands is unable to take in and contain "new wine." So, in order to take in anything new we must find a new Being within ourselves.
It's easy for us to understand the idea of a vessel as the body. After all, this body is the physical tool we use to receive impressions of life. If "things"- impressions, new wine- are going to flow into anything, it must be the body- correct?
Then again, perhaps we could understand it a bit differently.
The vessel into which the world flows is not the body. To limit it to the confines and parameters of this piece of flesh, this "bag of skin and bones," is to lose sight of the essential character of experience, the essential nature of the receiving of the material into the vessel.
The vessel into which the world flows is, rather, consciousness itself. Our consciousness, our Being, is a container of what it receives.
So- in this light, consider it- what is the nature of a vessel?
Enough words. I will leave you to ponder this, and respectfully ask that, as you do so, you take good care.
I am off to China tomorrow, which will hopefully afford some opportunities for more active blogging.
Love to all of you,