Wednesday, June 6, 2007
It appears that I have taken a bit of an unexpected vacation from blogging. This is not a bad thing; people should rest from activities once in a while, lest they, and the activities themselves, become stale.
Let us be realistic: it is nearly impossible to sustain intelligent commentary of this kind on a daily basis. One reaches the point where invention becomes necessary, and artifice overtakes sincerity. Those skilled in artifice can sustain that for a long period of time, but it is a betrayal of intention. Better to let the dog lie, to have him slouch on the front porch in the sun, than to send him ostentatiously baying after false prey.
Nonetheless, after a period of dormancy, something must reawaken. We should accept the conditions of dormancy gracefully, and also accept the reawakening as it arrives.
This brings me back to something that I discussed a few weeks ago in this blog, that is, specifically, reawakening itself -- in the form of my experience of the transformation of winter into spring. My experience of this is still provoking new impressions.
The dormancy of winter, where trees are bare, became eternal to me during this past winter. The conditions were perfect and as they should be; nothing would ever change. Somehow, within each moment of winter, there was a constancy that spoke of eternity and of permanence, even though every moment was, of course, transitory from the perspective of this brief event we refer to as consciousness.
Then the spring came and everything became green. I suppose I would now refer to this new arrival, this awakening from the lawful dormancy of nature, as "the shock of green."
Everything became green. There is so much green around me that I am overwhelmed by it. It has a quality, a texture, a substance to it that falls into me.
The gravity of experience draws it into the body, and in the falling, a sweetness arises.
There is a taste of green, a smell of green, a physical presence of green. ...Is there anything but green? When there is green, there is only green, in its own magnificent undeniability. It accepts no arguments as it arrives, it gives no quarter, and though every man can drink it in, no man can take its measure.
I know a great deal about biology for a layman, particularly about the connectedness of organisms to each other and to the planet. But this spring, it appears I am throwing everything I know away. I am beginning anew within this experience called time, from an organic place where there is nothing, where I do not know anything-- and here, within myself, I encounter green.
What is green? I don't know this thing. It lives within me in every moment that I see it, vibrating in a way that I cannot describe, so that I am become intimate with it in an almost sexual way. Yet I do not know it. I drink this wine, but I do not know the vintage.
Within this organic state of not knowing, there lies the potential for acceptance, and gratitude. We live on a planet where everything is mysterious and wonderful. Each moment is a miracle filled with an infinite number of relationships: Dogen's eternal mirror, which measures the width of each event and each arising.
Of course, the woeful fact is that our blindness causes us to wantonly destroy such things- in this age, we wage rage and war eternal against mother nature, so it seems-, but there is hope. Perhaps with more sensitivity we can reawaken to this mystery of green, and of how things change.
I spoke to my son Adriaan about the green when we were walking the famous dog Isabel on Monday evening. About how our brains evolved to take in this particular kind of impression, about how there is an actual need within human cells and their neural connections to receive this exact color and know it for itself, rather than for the words we use to describe it. About how when we don't take in these impressions of nature, the organism itself suffers in ways that we are unaware of.
The transformation of large areas of the planet into sterilized, shopping malled, paved over, parked over, built over landscape, is creating impressions within humanity that lead to terrible things. No one can explain these things when they happen; Virginia Tech, for example. When the human spirit is cramped and bottled, pressures build, and eventually, it explodes.
No one sees this happening until it is too late. It is like building your house on the slopes of the great volcano Vesuvius; everything looks beautiful, magnificent, until the earth begins to shake and everything is destroyed. Just as the Romans knew volcanoes were dangerous, and chose to ignore it, somehow we know that to ignore our relationship to nature is dangerous, yet we persist in destroying it-- in both an inner and outer sense.
Our relationship to nature needs to become a more inner one. We need to receive nature within us like a gift, like a perfume which we inhale, a sacred substance that speaks to our innermost need in ways that the Internet and our various technologies and enterprises cannot.
This is not a matter of romanticism; real life itself depends on it. If we do not see that we are the same as the grasshoppers, and the leaves, and the clouds in the sky, that they contain us in the same way that we contain them as we feed on all these impressions of life--
Then something vital in us dies, slowly, miserably, until we become dried out husks, and are nothing more than hairy men who have sold their birthrights for a mess of pottage.
Of course, that is the parable of Jacob and Esau, from the Old Testament. In the New Testament, what was gained was 30 pieces of silver.
All the pounds of silver in the world cannot take the measure of an ounce of green. Only our senses can do that.
Let us open them, and exist.
May your trees bear fruit, and your wells yield water.
snakes and birds
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,