Bach while in solitude.
Zazen in chapel/zendo.
Mountain walks with border collie.
Documentary on environment.
We don’t know what we are doing.
may they find themselves
well within themselves,
well within God!
At conversation tonight, we thought about this excerpt from Eliot’s poem:
Blessèd sister, holy mother, spirit of the fountain, spirit of the garden,
Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
(from poem Ash Wednesday, by T.S. Eliot)
We don’t know.
We really don’t.
If there is a series of lines from a song that resonate as a koan in my life and practice, it is this from Jackson Browne's For a Dancer:
That I can't sing, I can't help listening
It is a comforting koan. It's not one I feel I have to break through. It stands beside me, on its own, as might a candle on a desk in the solitude of a quiet afternoon.
Something about art that relieves one from the burden of being someone and going on being someone.
In the late northern and southern Dynasties, or around the turn of the sixth century, in Western terms, the writer Xie He composed his famous “Six Principles” of painting. The first of them calls for qiyun shengdong, “spirit-resonance showing life-motion,” usually understood to mean that a painter needs to capture the essential character of his or her subject in order to make it come alive in the artwork. Without spirit-resonance, a painting feels static, flat, and opaque. The goal of Chinese landscape painting is not mere accuracy of illustration, but capturing the spirit of a place, which requires a process of contemplation where the painter comes to understand the poetic meaning of the subject.
Jacques Maritain, the Catholic philosopher, thought this Chinese notion of spiritual resonance pointed to something fundamental about art in general. Poetry, in his view, is the spring of all art, which is about seeing analogies. If we think of a big old oak as proud and noble, we are seeing an analogy between the tree and the human spirit. An artist can pick out those connections well, and make something (a song, a poem, a painting) that communicates them. An artist can show that mountains have something in common with honor, that a wren shares something with a joyful heart, that a breeze at night is not unlike a heartbreak.
Guo Xi, a painter and writer who lived some four centuries after Xie He, indicated that the painter’s ability to see the spiritual meaning of things depended on his or her own spiritual character: “A virtuous man takes delight in landscapes so that in a rustic retreat he may nourish his nature, amid the carefree play of streams and rocks, he may take delight.” To see in nature the qualities of excellence and virtue, the artist must be attuned to receive them.
(from, The Prayers of the Chinese Nature Painters, by Nathan Beacom, Plough Quarterly Magazine, 25, Solidarity Essays), AUGUST 12, 2020)
Receiving is not a the termination of what is received.
The one receiving receives best when what is received passes through enroute elsewhere.
Perhaps art is the echoing resonance of what is passing through the one for whom the passing through has not been grasped, but merely sensed, as the spirit of sensing lingers long after the instrument of sensing has ceased its particular articulation of what has inspired the fleeting externalization of the pervasive interior insinuation -- and gone on, as it does.
Perhaps, as it must.
The other side of loneliness is the realization that we are wonderfully alone. This idea doesn't appeal to all.
We prefer others -- to love, to hate, to ask favors from, to be asked by them for favors. To be alone often drives us crazy.
We are living in a time of profound imbalance, extreme social and economic inequality even as the natural world is being thrown into climate collapse and ecocide. This is what happens when a civilization fails, when we come to the end of an era. And stuck in our present patterns of divisiveness, of competition and conflict, we do not have any real solutions. But there is different way to be, “another country” that is not so far away, but in the ground under our feet, in the movement of the wind and water flowing over stones. This is the wisdom of the Tao, of the feminine, life itself: mysterious, magical, waiting to be rediscovered.
So the question remains: if we are to walk into this different land—not the battle-scarred landscape of our drive to fight and control nature, of clear-cut forests and vast monoculture fields, but a return to wholeness, to a sustainability that reaches deep into the Earth—where will we begin? Could it be it as simple as returning, reconnecting with what is sacred and simple around us, the living connections that are already present but often overlooked?
Putting aside our daily concerns and our mind’s clutter, we can learn to be present to the presence of the sacred in each moment. Every moment is unique, offering its own way to connect to what is deepest within us, to the wonder and mystery of being fully alive. This belongs to the primal vision of the Tao, which recognizes the interconnected unity found everywhere:
How can the divine Oneness be seen?
In beautiful forms, breathtaking wonders,
The Tao is not obliged to present itself
in this way.
If you are willing to be lived by it, you will
see it everywhere, even in the most
(--from, The Natural Order of Things, A Sufi master on finding balance in an unstable world, by Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, Parabola, 29July20)
Being alone, slowly but ultimately, reveals what no one else, what nothing else, can.
We're unsure where to go and what to do.
One could even say that this is where the perpetual danger for the philosopher lies: that is, to confine oneself to the reassuring universe of concepts and discourse, instead of going beyond discourse, engaging in the risk of radical self-transformation. (— Pierre Hadot)
The hardest pilgrimage is to the center of the difficulty.
Once there, turn in every direction, see everything from its center.
Hands together --
Do a little dance!