That deep current of joy found me again a short time later as I was traveling homeward down the interstate like usual. As I was changing lanes at one point my gaze raised up to take in a bit more of the territory around me, like usual. But I didn’t see the usual landscape, and instead encountered two mountainous ridges in dark silhouette. Where had they come from? Where had they been all those previous times? Am I sure I'm where I think I am? Due to the reduced visibility amidst the blowing, swirling flakes, the features that normally identified this landscape - asphalt, concrete dividers and noise barriers, houses, office buildings, billboards - were diminished, quite strikingly revealing that which lay beneath and supported them. For a moment (or several, and still lingering) I was in a different world, one of not-mountain-or-city, and not not-mountain-or-city. There was a sense of deep familiarity along with thrilling novelty, meeting a world emerging for the first time ever, yet knowing it with an ageless intimacy. Yep, right there, traveling down I-25.
This is the kind of thing that happens when one lives a life with meditation and koans, I’ve found. Increasingly so and of varying degrees, of course. And it’s not that these things weren’t happening before, but simply that having such a practice enables one to notice and be in touch with them more and more, the world teaching and reflecting the deeper patterns of existence that are coursing through it and by natural extension, us. These experiences of the veils being broken through, the curtains pulled back ,are showing us things we already know yet perhaps didn't have the language or images to understand them, integrate them. And they come regularly, providing multiple examples and instances of how things are, giving shape and flavor to what is beyond the grasp of words and concepts. Fortunately, we don't have to be burdened with trying to figure out the one way that it always is and capture it (as if we could), but rather get to enjoy experiencing the numerous manifestations of what is moment by moment, through a continuously unfolding dialogue and exchange.
What came to mind for me today was what happens when storms blow through our lives, into and over the pathways and structures we’ve built up and come to depend upon, that ground and orient us. Big storms, small storms; slight disturbances, terrain-altering events; a brief gathering and dispersing of clouds, the long occupation of a seasonal monsoon. We might see these storms as a threat, something come to dismantle and take away what we’ve worked so hard to establish. Perhaps we welcome the storm, inviting it to sweep on through, clear things out and allow for a fresh start, and possibly find disappointment in the aftermath when what we wanted to be taken away is still there. Or, as in my experience today, we might find these storms to be quite innocuous for the most part, not doing anything particular to the structures of our everyday lives, yet opening an opportunity to see beyond and through them to what is running beneath it all. We meet freshly something we’ve known of all along, a vast field that supports and is a part of all of our makings and doings and beings. In this meeting there is nothing to lose and nothing to gain, nothing to hold onto and nothing to change, no need to choose one way of being over any other, but instead the encouragement to fall fully into it all, trusting. And we keep rolling along, everything the same, everything transforming.
These words from Joan Sutherland, Roshi were keeping me company today, on I-25 and while writing this and in the in-betweens and certainly the beyonds. They are taken from her new book Acequias & Gates, recently launched into the world. The words and ideas here I’ve been encountering, exploring and enjoying for many years, yet meeting them again, anew these past days has been enlivening. I also think they speak in a succinct and beautiful way to what I’m getting at above:
“Walking these koan acequias, we become like the women of ancient Rome, going barefoot through the streets on the festival of Vestalia, touching the ancient contours of the land - marsh and field and woods - under the paving stones. Living a life with koans is going barefoot as they did, aware of the earth’s deeper rhythms, and refreshed by the waters of the rio abajo rio, the river under the river, which is the vastness itself."
Ah…it feels good to have dusted off the blog keyboard once again after many, many months. I can’t count the times that I had the inspiration to write and post something yet things never manifested, sometimes not gathering enough steam, other times snowballing and becoming too big to capture. Much of these inspirations came through everyday experiences like the above and still do, so I can trust that they will keep coming. What helped bring things to fruition this time was a quote by Deshan from my calendar that has been my companion for several weeks, encouraging me to stick to the direct and simple, of the ordinary and everyday. I’ll be giving a talk about the quote itself in the coming weeks, so check into the Dharma Talks page from time to time for its appearance. For now I’ll leave you with the quote, which you can invite to be your companion as you wish:
“What is known as ‘realizing the mystery’ is nothing more than breaking through to grab an ordinary person’s life.”