Conduct and observance

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Thursday, March 8, 2007

Inner landscapes

At this juncture there is a general question afoot in my own work of what it means to receive my life; to inhabit my life. The question has been percolating for more than five years now.

Life: for a man, an inner landscape drawn by the lines of time, and colored with the shades of his experiences.

How to inhabit it?

There is a deep energy that flows within the body that can provide a different kind of sensation of life. Dogen’s sutra on mountains and water speaks about this energy in what one might call “global terms.” Let us, for a moment, consider this from an esoteric point of view: water and mountains as the inner landscape: as the lower, and higher, natural energies that intersect in man.

Water and mountains are, in Dogen’s treatise, to be understood as forces. Each one is a necessary feature of the inner landscape. Like real water and real mountains, our spiritual landscape is formed and shaped by these two great forces. Mountains push up and form landscapes; water flows through them and erodes them, forming new shapes. Together they form an edge condition: a crossroads. The higher meets the lower: man’s being inhabits the juncture.

Flowers bloom due to the interaction of mountains and water. Water wears down mountains, and makes soil; mountains catch winds, and make rain.

These forces can be connected to in a deep and satisfying manner that we don’t have a general experience of. Only prolonged meditation and effort in life can lead us to a deeper, physical understanding of how these two great forces meet within us.

If we attain an awakening of the presence of water and mountains in an inner sense, we begin to inhabit the landscape of our life differently.

You’ll note how traditional Chinese landscape painting emphasizes three major features: mountains, water, and scale. If you look at a Chinese landscape painting you’ll notice the people are almost always quite tiny: you have to search diligently to find them.

The act of inner discovery is the act of locating ourselves within this huge inner landscape of water and mountains. We seek a relationship with this deep energy of mountains and water within us, to see how they interact, and how together they can bring us closer to an experience of this moment we call living, which we are all too often apart from.

Does this deep energy answer our questions? No: it calls us to new ones.

It does not cure our disease; it intensifies it.

Only by inhabiting dis-ease: the lack of ease within life, the constant calling into question of where we are, what we are doing, can we deepen our practice. From this point of view, dis-ease is not disease: it is the one path towards health. The less comfortable we find ourselves, the more we have to gain. Every ache, every pain, every fear and doubt calls us anew to inhabit this life. As I experience each passing moment in this breathing, burning flesh, knowing more and more deeply- through pulse, through heartbeat, through sensation and through breath- that this thing called life is a finite proposition, that I am mortal- then I begin to understand that each moment is sacred and eternal and will never come again.

We ride our bodies through life like a roman general in a triumph: casting ourselves, in our imagination and our delusions, as the grand heroes of a great drama, a gay parade which is all about us.

When celebrating triumphs, Roman generals traditionally used to be accompanied by a man who stood in the chariot with them, whispering into their ear,

you are mortal,

so that they would not forget themselves and think they were Gods.

It would not be a bad thing, were we to have a similar companion. I believe that the only way I can truly begin to inhabit my life is by understanding my death. In each passing moment.

And that is an act born not of the soul, but the flesh itself.

Life needs to be understood moment by moment, mystery by mystery, as each impression is drawn inward, into this well of gravity we call Being.

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