from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

lolloping around the universe scarcely knowing who we are

I've spoken here before of finding ways to maintain a balance of attention, so that one may feel the winds of the world passing through one without being blown away; being aware of, for instance, our natural and alerting emotional reactivity to circumstances without identifying our whole being with our emotions.

This blog is one way for me of holding this thread of mindfulness in very painful times; remembering that I am not, or not just, my grief. This is partly possible because of you, those of you who read my blog. A big thank you to you all, and especially to those of you who have emailed me with such generosity. The sharing of all our journeys is so sustaining; knowing there are people out there who receive my words open-heartedly and meet them with themselves makes such a difference.


'Mostly we lollop around the universe, scarcely knowing who we are. Moments, hours, centuries, we slither between savagery and love, calamity and calm, indifference and pity, unsure of the Way, trapped in our own making of ourselves,' says the Zen poetry scholar Lucien Stryk in his Foreword to Zen, a beautiful book of texts and images selected by Miriam Levering (dpb, London, 200). 'Fraught with anxiety, frustration, not liking what we see, we wonder how to find contentment and peace in such a complex world.' The book, he continues, 'is a graceful introduction to awareness' through those who have 'dedicated a lifetime to the search for answers, seek[ing] through the litter of ages, turn[ing] from the mess we make and remake of things...'

I find this book with its particular poems, texts and images very soothing. It embodies the Zen take on simplicity which cuts through the messy veneers overlaying our search for something true, something sustainable beyond our clinging on to thoughts, things, people and the demands we make of life.

Zen offers a way to recognise and be comfortable with paradox and impermanence. As I've said before here, it is my grasping on to what 'I' think 'I' need/desire/can't live without that causes the trouble; in fact the whole notion of a separate and distinct 'I' as the focus or locus of the universe. And of course 'I' fall for that notion – that the universe is here to serve me – 24 hours a day, even though I know intellectually that that's not the case!

Zen Buddhists, says Levering in her Introduction, 'believe that one's own experience shows that all objects of perception and thought are not permanent but come into being when other necessary conditions for their existence are fulfilled. In this sense, all objects of thought and perception have no independent existence [or] definite boundaries... but are caused, not just by a few other things at any given time, but ultimately by all other things at once... The central paradox of everything we experience in life is that it is [both] empty [of enduring permanent substance] and at the same time possessed of a marvelous, subtle, mysterious existence. Everything is empty, yet spring comes, flowers bloom and trees show new growth... [and] even the most ordinary thing is marvelous in itself. Zen masters teach that to realize the emptiness and interconnectedness of all things, not just with the mind but with one's whole being, is to achieve enlightenment.'


You'll forgive me at this time, I'm sure, for allowing myself to rest in the arms of my Zen practice, even if it doesn't resonate with you. Soon – I promise – I'll talk again of other things, like for instance poetry – the other great comforter (besides friends and family and the natural world) for me in times of trouble.


  1. Waiting for my son to finish a class the other day, I found myself browsing the charity shop bookshelves. Picked up 'Zen',. Glanced at it. Bought it for a euro. Took it home and stashed it on my desk, too busy to have looked at it again... until I saw your post.

    Things happen, at the right time, for a reason.

    I love your blog.

  2. Asproulla, a big thank you for your words! And I too found that book in a charity bookshop, and initially thought 'I don't need yet another book on Zen' - until I picked it up. The first half with its selection of texts, poems and images I find very inspiring. The later more doctrinal part for me is less so, but it would have been worth it just for two or three of the poems/texts and images, and the Intro/Foreword. Hope you'll enjoy it!


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