Monday, April 19, 2010

The Direct Apprehension of X

I've had a couple of days that didn't go the way I like my mornings to go, but that were delightful, given they were about Tom's birthday, and then about planting in the front gardens. Lovely days that interrupted my routine, and caused me to think about just how is it I like my morning to go. It's this: I like a spacious time to wander in, to be mystic.

Last week, looking up Julian of Norwich, I found myself reading and thinking about mystical practices. I didn't quite understand until then that Zen is in that category - a practice whose purpose is to help us directly apprehend X, however you name the sacred and ineffable in the universe: God, Buddha nature, reality.

For me, poetry is an expression of what I sometimes hear in that wandering state. If I write a poem, it is usually be in those quiet early hours, before Tom gets up and my day swings into another gear. In that early time - and I like to have two hours - I usually meditate and read some thing you could call inspirational. A life of a saint or a monk or teacher, a talk. I drink coffee and sort of do nothing, look out the window. This time of year I might wander in the back yard, looking to see what's come up.

Mystic experiences come in many forms. In Zen we think about kensho which is often a pretty big experience of having the ordinary structures of the conditioned mind blow apart, and apprehending the nature of the universe. Usually in Zen, your troubles now begin. For where Julian of Norwich may have wanted to stay in a constant prayerful state, in communion with the God who spoke revelations to her, Zen is designed to insist we come back into everyday reality, which we maintain is the best state. So it is said (to mystify the newcomer) that before enlightenment you haul water, chop wood. And after enlightenment you haul water, and chop wood. Of course there is a trick in there; before enlightenment you weren't really with it at all.

When you finally get to enlightenment, it is commonly said, it will not be what you thought it would. It is just - reality. Your body feels real to you. You like it. You are happy with yourself and your life, you ride along life's waves with equanimity. Let's see, what did I leave out? Well, the image above, Tom amid a flock of flamingos to celebrate a nothing-special birthday. In case you can't read the sign, it says "We flew in to make Tom's birthday classy." A little English-major irony there. That's our house to the left, with the red Japanese maple in front of it.


  1. Just a moment ago, my friend was asking what's different between before and after finding Buddhism. And I said, before, I was searching. After, I wasn't. Or.. it's still the same fetching water and chopping wood thing, before and after. Except you now see things differently. 'How differently?' Its now just fetching water and chopping wood, nothing more.

    Nice wide open space you have :D And I like the red tree.

  2. Don't know if you had a chance to see this SOF link about Julian of Norwich.

    “All shall be well, and all will be well.”