Sunday, August 2, 2015

Is reality harsh? and other minutia


We say, "That's the cold hard truth." It means "That's a truth I don't like. That's part of reality I'd rather put aside." As an elderly lady I know once told her daughter, memorably, "Well, that might be reality, but that doesn't mean I have to think about it."

You don't have to believe that, barring accident, you yourself are aging, and are going to die, and therefore make out an Advance Care Directive. Here's one form.
(This used to be called Living Will, a term that was somehow more approachable, though not logical. It's a record of how you want to be cared for in the event you can't speak for yourself.)
Whether or not you face reality, it just is. To call it cold and harsh is to say you don't like it. Of course not in specific instances. But to dislike the laws of the universe is . . . not Zen.

I just brought this up because someone I know is going around telling friends how she wants them to pull the plug if she's terminally ill, and how to do her funeral (perhaps just keeping her end up in conversation) and you know what? her distant family is going to get to make all those decisions unless she gets it on paper. Signed and witnessed.

Gerard Manley Hopkins
I just returned to "The Windhover." It may be his best poem, and that's saying something, because he may be the best poet of his time.

In reading it, do not overlook the epigraph. Also, this: "my heart in hiding/stirred." My heart in hiding; what a phrase.

Here it is. It is his invented language, so, like contemporary art, it's not something you grasp on sight.


Abstract art.

Just experience it.


  1. It's still called a Living Will in Canada. I re-made my will last year, including a Living Will. Talking about it won't make it so; I hope your friend was told that ;)
    The abstract art speaks volumes.... to me, at least.

  2. Love that poem so much. I was just thinking about it the other day, amazed to realize I could still recite it (unsure of a word here or there, but pretty close). I'm assuming you're a Buddhist--how do you relate to the epigraph?

  3. I've never tried to memorize that poem, and respect the effort. I did learn "God's Grandeur." Though my memory is worse these days, lines come to me often, especially the last lines, beginning, "And for all this nature is never spent."

    The Windhover expresses love of creation. As I see it, Christ and Buddha enjoin us above all to love every creature, all things. I think of Rumi's poetry, too, his love poems that are to God, love of every thing that comes in the guest house.

    I think Hopkins was, like me, discontented in the institutions of religion. These poems are the outpouring of a mystic's love of what Christianity calls God. Zen doesn't use that word, but the sense is that everything is a manifestation of the same thing, and is sacred.

    Zen is set up to open the heart - our retreats are called sesshin, meaning "touching the heart-mind," so you could say they are set up to make mystics of every one of us. I feel that Hopkins would have been overjoyed to sit in a sesshin. So would Jesus.

    BTW, my root Zen teacher, Ama Samy, is also a Jesuit priest. He has said that Zen deepens his Christianity.

    Thank you for this question, which has stimulated me to think more deeply about this beautiful poem.

  4. And thank you for that thoughtful response. My understanding of Buddhism wouldn't exactly include the term "creation"--that suggests some other, separate, and essential being who does the creating, and that's my one limitation with seeing congruence between Buddhist and Christian thought. But I love the poem and can happily use it to rejoice in the existence of all beings, without getting caught up in those questions. And love Rumi, too. Thanks again.

    1. Yes. I've used "creation" without thinking about the meaning of it. I would almost say Zen tells us to love all reality in our attentiveness to every thing.

  5. And so beautifully said: "everything is a manifestation of the same thing, and is sacred"