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.
Tuesday, 24 July 2012
the still mind and relentless participation
Sometimes our styles clash. My mind is more like a trawl net. I extend it in many directions at once, fishing for rich ideas, intense experience, significant friendships. Never mind that (friendships aside!) what is sometimes caught are old boots, broken shells, half-dead fish; sometimes, just sometimes, I bring up a flock of stars (or whatever the equivalent is in the fishing world).
Sometimes I remember that fly-fishing might be more effective: choosing the right fly, the right spot, casting carefully. Sometimes I think I need to cast harder and more often, thus agitating the surface of the water and scaring all the fish away.
As a vegan, I'm not entirely comfortable with this imagery.
As a writer, I know how apt it is.
As someone interested in archetypal approaches to psychology and the life of the soul, it's hugely potent, the idea of fishing (in the waters of the unconscious).
As a meditator, it's a really useful image for me; or rather, what's useful is the image of interacting with the water and stirring it up; or choosing instead to sit quietly and watch for fish to rise and then sink again without any grabbing or pushing until finally maybe even the fish don't disturb the surface, for a little while at least. The fish – the thoughts and images and feelings thrown up by the human mind – are not, in fact, the point here.
The first part of Zazen is entirely about stilling the mind and losing our identity with 'small self'. Without this, no kind of transcendence, or the bliss of a sense of unitive rather than egoic consciousness, can occur. This is so hard, even after decades of (admittedly erratic) practice. Monkey mind rules the land; but how on earth can I start to see things as they really are when I'm running such interference in a torrent of opinions, beliefs, pre-judgements, emotional knee-jerks, attachment to this, aversion from that, thoughts about instead of immersion in What Is – etc etc.
As a human being, I am at last learning (at least in theory) the huge power of being able to cultivate the still mind.
Actually, that's not true. What is truer is that I've known that nothing effective can change without a still mind since my first encounter with a hardcore Soto Zen group in my student years. What is true now is that my psyche, and my body, can no longer cope with my endless need for 'relentless participation' (thank you Elizabeth Gilbert for crystallising what I knew but couldn't articulate so exactly as in that phrase. It's been so helpful to think 'Ah yes, here I go again – my relentless need to participate.').
For the moment I've dropped off my social media perch, and I am saying 'no' (occasionally!) where my addiction to intensity of experience, and my unconscious elision of quantity with quality, would have me 'out there', eternally seeking more. (This partly explains my scarcity of blogs lately too.)
It's always as if this experience, this idea, this person, this group, this interaction, will hold a key for me. And almost always, in fact, they do. But where to hang all the keys, where to file all the new information, and what door is it I'm looking so relentlessly to open?
How can I transmute information and input into wisdom? Quietly, I suspect, in the solitary moments when I've stopped even needing to feed my mind with words.
Withdrawal symptoms? Big time, as they say.
I have to thank Ms Gilbert too for reminding me of the Italian phrase 'il bel far niente': 'the beautiful doing-nothing'.
This morning I walk to the quarry pool in this gift of a scented sunshiny day, and I watch how the deep opaque green water simply receives, and reflects back – no effort. I watch how, over ten minutes, my mind slows down. I watch how the ripples happen, spread and dissolve with no effort from me or the pool. I notice how my heart calms to simply sit here. I don't even have to interact with it all – I can just sit here.
Sitting quietly, doing nothing
spring comes and the grass grows by itself...
ladling out clear water from the depths of the fire
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- the still mind and relentless participation
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