Pock! Pock! Pock! Pock! The Japanese woodenfish drum makes a sharp, hollow sound, like a huge, deliberate woodpecker in still air. In Zen monasteries it is used to establish a tempo so that an assembly of people can chant in unison. Last weekend, I heard it used to call a group to meditation, to meals, to readings and discussions. Although the woodenfish drum wasn’t used in a traditional Zen way, the spirit was the same. Because fish do not have eyelids, their eyes are always open. The woodenfish is a symbol of the unceasing effort to wake up, of the awakening to our true manifestations that is possible only in community.
The first time I was drawn to practice in a group, I was in my early twenties and working in publishing in Manhattan. I remember coming back to my apartment one evening, feeling thoroughly fed up with what I was doing with my life. For whatever reason or combination of reasons, there was a sudden and piercing clarity that my whole identity revolved around seeking comfort and security, worthiness and powerfulness.
There followed a powerful interest like a parting in the clouds: Who was I really, not measured in this small way, but as a human being in the cosmos? This wasn’t a dreamy aimless kind of question. There was a very pure impulse to investigate, a willingness and determination to find out I could find my way to a larger life. I was haunted by the sense that my life could just melt away like a dream, that it was possible that I might never really know I had been alive in a profound way.
I knew I needed the help of a group and eventually I found one. Many years later, I stopped being part of it when I realized I had lost that original questioning, when I couldn’t hear it any more through the din of ideas. I left when I realized it had become business as usual for me, that the pure wonderment had given way to another ego identity. Being part of something larger had become a new way to comfortable and secure, worthy and capable–a new way to cover up what a Zen teacher has called “the anxious quiver of being.”
Now I’m back in a group. But now I know I have to bring something, an intention to see myself as am…it can be painful and scary at times but I begin to see that behind the curtain of separation, there is a great stillness and an energy we all share.
Today, because it is cold and gloomy and the wind blowing, I am attaching a link to a story by Richard Whittaker, our West Coast editor. It is a story about how far a man can go all by himself, without a group or a way to guide him.
2 thoughts on “Woodenfish”
I think the pain comes before the Seeing. When Seeing there is no pain. There is wonder in having a completely different (a separation) view of myself. And a moment of joy comes when I see how my manifestations almost always take me..or rather take my energy, my attention. The joy comes, I suppose, because I see the traps within myself that imprison me. But I also become aware that I am more than that. I can See and the door of freedom is opened for a moment.
Then later I go on to think, maybe understand a little, how I, like the large celestial bodies, have centers of gravity within me. Dispersed in many locations. Not one center of gravity in its proper place which would attract, perhaps, what I need.
By Seeing I am changed. A moment of transformation of Being. How much affect will it have on my life?
These moments of Seeing seem to come after very difficult and painful experiences in life. Others annoy me. They seem insensitive, stupid. How am I to deal with that? I am in emotional upheaval but beneath or within that is Wish. Wish to understand. Wish for shared Work. I Sit. Am quiet. I am given what I need. From where? By whom?
I remember you read well some T S Eliot years ago , and said so. at the time. I forget what . He wrote of “the future”: (“The Dry Salvages”) And the way up is the way down, the way forward is the way back. You cannot face it steadily, but this thing is sure, That time is no healer: the patient is no longer here.
Steiner’s words in which he describes moments in one’s life when the spiritual world is able to penetrate us are more representative of his thought than the “Two Streams” selection in PARABOLA. I expect he was speaking to an audience not familiar with his ideas in the selected piece: terms like “humility” and “prayer” were more appropriate:
[page 15,Cosmic and Human Metamorphoses, GA# 44 Seven Lectures in Berlin in 1917] Each time we develop a thought in such a way that it springs from ourselves, when we take the initiative, when we are confronted with a decision to be made by ourselves even in quite small things, that again is a favorable moment for the approach of the Dead karmically connected with us. (Of course, if we simply yield ourselves up, allowing life to take its course, carrying us along with the stream, there is but little likelihood of the real, true, inwardly living Spiritual world working into us.)
PARABOLA includes the words of Gurdjieff where he says that the present is a time to repair the past and prepare the future ( resembling Aquinas’s dictum that the duration of human life is to be dedicated to earning grace and Madame’s speaking of the priority of higher energy .) In the suggestions he gave to his pupils Gurdjieff recommended saying as a prayer for one’s parents the “I am Thou, Thou art I.” This exercise for being present includes the past . I need to be open to help from the Silence, which includes the help of others, living or dead. We may repair the past in the present in our work to be. Madame often said in recommending we do the morning exercise , “You will know you are never alone.”