existentialist cafe

life is sacred

Month: October, 2013

In daylight

In daylight
comforted in a fragrant mist
a salamander
patters gently on a fallen leaf
and drinks
water left from a sudden rain


Six-word Autobiography

Lucky for me, I have gills.

Heron flies south, toward winter sun

Heron flies south, toward winter sun
arrow of heaven pulled and sent
from earth’s horizon tracing an arc
unerring into the blinding blue.
I can not fly, but he will carry me

A mid-day walking meditation

Walking meditation is an old practice. In the Maha Satipatthana Sutta, it reads “a bhikkhu while walking knows ‘I am walking.'” The practice of kinhin interrupts extended periods of zazen and probably has, among other things, the practical purpose of stretching the legs. In my practice, I do sitting meditation in the morning; however, I find that at mid-day I am tired from working and need to be more active.

One day, I was thinking about my scattered brain, and it seemed that my desires were like sheep without a shepherd, running in all directions at once whenever they hear a noise or see a flashing light. This is the mind without wisdom. Desires, like sheep, do not know the thing they desire; they are dumb. Wisdom is a shepherd, who calms the flock and leads them to nourishing food and living waters. The mid-day walking meditation is a way to calm the flock of our desires after being exposed to many of sensations throughout the day, enough so that they are able to graze peacefully on good food without being startled.

Find somewhere you can walk uninterrupted for about fifteen minutes, or more, or less. Even if you only walk for five minutes, it is beneficial. The place preferably is pleasant to be in. A skilled shepherd finds nourishment everywhere, but as wisdom is being trained it is easier in pleasant places. Do not drink caffeine or other stimulant an hour before beginning.

At the start of the walk, set the intention to be simply present and aware, much as you would at the beginning of any other meditation. This intention is the voice of the shepherd, whose voice the sheep know and will follow.

As you walk simply take things as they are, without concern for them. Your thoughts should be allowed to drift easily, without being hurried or pushed. Take in your surroundings, but do not force them in. Simply permit them to enter your eyes, ears, nose, skin. Walk with an easy stride, with your back straight and your hands at your side. If you find that you are moving frantically or nervously, or are making an effort to fix your concentration, set your intention again. If you stop for a minute to absorb some particular thing, then stop for a minute to absorb that thing and then move on.

At the end of your walk, it may be a good time to read a few verses of sacred writing or poetry to ease the transition back into daily life.

2 Haiku about the rain

light autumn rain
the clerk says it will snow
maybe tomorrow

light autumn rain
no one wants to sit down
just hurry home

3 Haiku about birds

Today the birds fly
Tomorrow I will miss them
So will the pine seeds.

Tree explodes skyward
Raining down its autumn fruits
The birds are frantic

Crooked bird-line south
Throwing calls down to the earth
Again and again

Rather than addressing,
I am addressed.
Not from me: through me,
to me.

my desires, like sheep, flee
and scatter in all directions

wisdom is a shepherd,
he leads the flock to living waters

From something I was writing…

These (various types of egoism) are the things that I use to attempt to secure, preserve, or hold the self. Self-consciousness I have found to be rather pervasive; it appears as a daily and hourly buffer against an awareness of non-being. The self attempts to hold back the tide of non-being by sheer force, in the strange belief that if I keep looking at my self, then my self will not go anywhere; I will be preserved through the act of self-consciousness. It is, in that moment, an effort to be the ground of my own being. This kind of bootstrapping ultimately fails, though it may seem to be successful for some moments. Its ultimately failure is precisely why we must first lose ourselves in order to find ourselves. This must occur daily.

For the first time in my life, I think, I squared terror in the eye and did not back down. Though I’m sure, now, that it was buffered or tempered by something. I do not think that I could stand to see terror in its raw and unfinished form. I think some people, who are well advanced in the spiritual path, can. But this I know: it was not tempered by action, which is a typical and preferred course: Fear leading to action-despite-fear. Generally, I do not even do that. Most often I temper it through retreat, by fleeing to some mindless or meaningless activity whose only purpose (a modicum of meaning I suppose) is to delay the terror. I can be largely successful at this for long stretches. But this time I let it seize me, and did not stop it from seizing me. Then the thought popped into my head – “this is abject terror, and I can smell in it the stench of bottomless hopelessness.” The term ‘abject terror’ did actually pop into my head as those words, but the stench was simply the dreadful awareness of it which I can only name now, well after the fact. In those instances, I was deeply frightened because it seemed that it was a bottomless pit that I was headed towards. And then another feeling came up which was not at all strong, but it was sufficient; in fact, it was a feeling I would say, of sufficiency, if sufficiency can be a feeling. Then I realized that the abject terror had lost the nature of a threat, and this was a great relief.

Most often I fight between two opposing forces – clamping down, while I desire to be opened up. When it does finally open, it is with great cataclysm in my soul; exhilaration. So I bounce back and forth between prolonged consternation and sudden exhilaration. This was much more of a diffusive calm. It seemed as though I had seen the terror through to its completion, in a small sort of way, and so was delivered from it.

Interestingly, both sets of feelings – that of abject terror/careening into hopelessness, and that of sufficiency – I would characterize as floating. But whereas the first was more a matter of being set adrift like an unmoored boat with no sail, the other was more a matter of being borne up as on an updraft.

Deliverance can take many forms. I think about recovery from addiction, how there is a pro-longed (sometimes very long) period of relapse, guilt, and coming-to-terms, which is filled with a sense of joy. The strength of joy can keep you going for a long time. But it is not sufficient. I think it is possible to become actually addicted to the joy, which seems to make up for all the times of self-destruction. But this is no life. Another deliverance does not quite have the same quality. I can only think of it in an image: it is like daily weeding the garden, rather than every few years doing a major tilling and overhaul, or breaking out the poison (the nuclear option) every year to kill everything.

And I can not resist a theological observation. Many forms of Christianity teach only the grand, sudden deliverance, which is expected to be once-and-for-all. It isn’t, and people are sorely disappointed. They maybe crave an experience of deliverance, or perhaps even feel guilty if they don’t feel saved. Other forms of Christianity teach its adherents to “work out their salvation.” That is, salvation is not something that happens to you once upon a time, but occurs in the daily habit of turning.