Wind on the Water

Still touched by what I wrote about last time–the wholeness or perfection that is present in each seemingly imperfect moment–I was invited up to visit some old high school friends in a cottage on Campbell’s Point on Lake Ontario.  I couldn’t make the party.  But  I was able to participate in another extraordinary kind of re-union–of seeming opposites, of going out into the world and coming home, of rugged independence and our mutual interdependence on one another and on the Whole.  Early one morning,  my high school friend Scott (whose family’s cottage was the scene of the bash)  generously drove me all around Point Penninsula and Pillar Point.  I was searching for the site of a 60 acre farm once owned by my great grandfather Cade.  I was also searching for the point where my great-great uncle, a sailing captain sunk his three-masted sailing ship.  Although I know it’s impossible to time-travel, I had this longing to stand where earlier ancestors stood, to look out over the water the way they did, to maybe feel what they felt.

After driving around the coastline for a good long time, we decided that we had probably unknowingly crossed and maybe even re-crossed the place where Cade’s farm once stood (near the “Long Carrying Place,” where long-ago Indians portaged their canoes).   We got out of the car and sat on a stone boat launch at the edge of Point Penninsula, looking out across the vast lake and the great river beyond.   We talked about how this is the kind of view Cade looked at, about how hard it must have been to farm in such a place, how dependent you had to be on your fellow farmers and on forces and conditions beyond you.   As I watched great fluffy cumulous clouds mass and change shape, I realized the sense I had formed of Cade was incomplete.   I thought of him as a rugged individualist, stubbornly self-sufficient, travelling by horse and carriage long after others started driving cars, indifferent to a changing world.  Yet, living here, farming here, he had to be constantly aware of  weather and seasons and forces beyond any of our knowing and control.

The rugged individualist had to have lived with an awareness of  interdependence.  This may seem obvious to many people.  A high school teacher friend told me that even Cade’s very presence there could be traced to a series of interconnected movements from the time of Jaques Cartier.  But I had clung stubbornly to this idea of his stubborn independence.  I thought my life stood in stark contrast.  After all, it has come around to  interdependence–to the “new” idea of sustainability (which a subsistence farmer on the edge of Lake Ontario could not be expected to know).  As I sat on the stone boat launch watching the wind make white caps on the rocky shoals, I tried to describe my realization to Scott: that the drive outward into the world, towards independence, that longing for freedom from conditioning–it turns out it is not separate from the return home.  Independence is not separate from interdependence.  It seems that the end of all journeys outward, all searching, is the return, the letting go, the surrender to the inescapable knowing of interdependence.  There is a rthymn to it, like the in breath and the out breath,opening to the world and then letting it go.  “It’s really all one process, like breathing,” I said, fearing that I sounded a little, well, trippy.

Scott, who has been engaged in a deep Christianity, reminded me that for Christians real freedom consists in surrendering to the will of God–giving up our separation for interconnection with the Whole.   As we sat there the beautiful sight of the wind on the water, he told me the Hebrew word “Ruach,” means Spirit and also wind, breath.   The breath of God moved over the water and brought life.   (The English word “spirit” comes from the Latin “spiritus” or breath).

Sitting there on that rocky shore thanks to the generosity of my friend, I glimpsed how every moment is determined by conditions, forces, mysteries that are ever out of our field of attention,no matter how sincere we are in cultivating awareness.  I glimpsed how no matter how much we seek to know, to love, to be with life, what we can know is always partial in every sense of the word.  Clinging to certain stories, elevating and cherishing a particular independent “I” — well, that’s missing what is really happening.  The breath of  the life force is moving through us.   It does not belong to us but links us with our ancestors and with all beings.  Stop grasping at knowing and open to the unknown.  Moment by moment, Ruach moving over the Deep.

20 thoughts on “Wind on the Water

  1. If I may, I would like to leave this link to a poem below, because it touches on what Scott shared with Tracy in many ways. Ruah, the breath of God, the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit to place it in both a Jewish and a Christian context. Although, each faith may understand it differently in very subtle ways.

    I would also like to note that many of the worlds spiritual traditions, in one form or another make this same connection with the breath and spirit. In yoga we have the word Prana, the inner winds, in qigong we have Qi, in Japanese it is called Ki, in the Tibetan tradition Lung, in ancient Greek Pneuma, ancient Egypt Ka, there are many versions, but they all seem to point to breath, spirit, soul, even psyche.

    I like to think of them all as Spirit, God as Spirit, the Spirit that sustains all creation and gives us all an interconnection (interbeing) with on another; this may be close to the truth.

    I hope that everyone has a great weekend. Peace – Ron

  2. Thanks for sharing your poem, Ron. And adding prana, qi, lung, pneuma, ka–all words for a truth beyond words.

    1. I keep hearing a song in my head…”Smoke on the water, fire in the sky…” Ahhh, rock and roll lyrics die hard.

      There is something beautiful beyond words in the movement of the summer wind across open spaces, be it fields of grain or deep waters. To sit at Qumran and feel a wind rising out of the Dead Sea valley brush across my cheek as it had for Jesus, the Essenes, John the Baptist and countless others. To sit atop the Mount of Beatitudes and feel the breeze off the Sea of Galilee stir the trees and flowers about me. To look out over this fresh water Sea of the Bible and know that Simon Peter and Andrew sailed over that water, dropping their nets into the sea. To know that there was a moment when Jesus walked across the sea one evening in the mist, challenging his disciples to believe that in faith they could do anything, even move mountains.

      To know that the breath of life (nephish) are tied inexorably into the Spirit (ruach and pneuma) so that it is not about me but a God who animates all life.

      God’s Peace and Balance to all – Shalom!

  3. I have sometimes wondered if the epidemic of asthma, which is taking a toll on the health of too many people in my life, has a spiritual dimension. Not to downplay the role that air pollution and diet, etc. likely play. But those things are as interconnected as are mind, body and spirit. Perhaps some day, wiser people will look back, nod their heads and declare that our age was one during which many people were choking for lack of faith in something worth having faith in.

  4. That’s a really interesting thought, Cathrin. The feeling of not being able to breathe–or catch our breath because of the mad pace we keep–goes deep.

  5. Apparently there is reason for hope. Madame de Salzmann in The Reality of Being says:

    “When my body comes to a state where there is no longer any tension, I feel the fineness of the sensation of stillness. It is like the birth of being. And I feel the fineness of the thought, which reaches a level where it penetrates and registers everything that takes place. I come to the extraordinary impression of existing.

    …When I am attentive to this Presence, I feel its life, a mysterious life that relates me with every living thing in the world. My vision of myself is related to the whole.

  6. Yes, there are many names for The Presence, whom I chose to call God.
    I enjoy all the beautiful thoughts on this blog, but I do want to caution about taking any medical disease and insinuating..even so slightly that it is a “spiritual malady”.
    I have asthma, and many good, “spiritual”, people that I know have the same thing.
    It’s not really psychomatic, but physical. I have an allergy to certain nuts too, (seriously), and when I was a little girl, my lip swelled and my throat itched terribly.
    I know no harm was meant, and we live in a world where breathing can be hard…lots of pollution, and if we get upset, or harried in life, we do need to slow down, and breathe! :~)

    Elizabeth, a faith-filled woman

    1. Hi Elizabeth,

      I have asthma, too, and I certainly didn’t mean for my comment to be taken to mean that those without faith are literally choking, or that anyone with asthma must not have faith. But I like to think about why there are global issues and problems that affect certain times more than others. The interconnectedness of mind, spirit and body is something that we try to grasp, and yet full understanding is always just out of reach. Musing about such things does not necessarily preclude the notion that an individual truly suffers from a physical disease. We know that certain medicines and lifestyles can help asthmatics (I’m sure that you and I have tried both), and so of course asthma is a physical disease. Tracy’s post led my thoughts in a certain direction, and I felt an urge to make a contribution. My comment was about a possible spiritual dimension of asthma, not that asthma has only a spiritual dimension.
      Thank you for the opportunity to clarify my point.

  7. It is important to remember those interconnections between all of us and all reality. Who we are and experience does arise out of our relationships with others and with all of creation. I’ve read that global warming will increase the pollen in the air, and thus our allergic reactions to those increased levels. So, we have that interconnection and how that might impact your well being.

    But, we are not only human beings, we are spiritual beings as well; created in the image of God. We are an echo of that image in many ways.

    In Buddhism there is the experience of Śūnyatā – Emptiness – Interbeing (Thich Nhat Hahn’s idea of Emptiness), plus dependent origination or arising, or that God is best understood as the “Ground of Being,” an idea proposed by 20th century theologian Paul Tillich.

    InterBeing is also understood as the essential interconnectedness of the universe, challenging us to look beyond our world of concepts and opposites. By looking deeply into the nature of the universe we see a profound interdependence between all things, and we begin to see that there is no separate self in relationship with creation.

    Our whole sense of reality and self is shape by this relationship; it is arising out of this emptiness in a universe that is constantly changing from one moment to the next.

    Another way I like to think of Śūnyatā is as “tabula rasa” or the “‘blank slate” thesis in epistemology, a pure potentiality actualized through our relationships, through this potential and actualization – InterBeing.

    Here is a Thomas Merton quote on no-thing-ness, nothingness, emptiness, interbeing and dependent arising if you well. It is a Christian Contemplative response to these ideas and experiences.

    “Again, that expression, le point vierge, (I cannot translate it) comes in here. At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God, which is never at our disposal, from which God disposes of our lives, which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our own mind or the brutalities of our own will. This little point of nothingness and of absolute poverty is the pure glory of God in us. It is so to speak His name written in us, as our poverty, as our indigence, as our dependence, as our sonship. It is like a pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of heaven. It is in everybody, and if we could see it we would see these billions of points of light coming together in the face and blaze of a sun that would make all the darkness and cruelty of life vanish completely.” [Thomas Merton: Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, pg. 158]

    Thursday, August 13, 2009
    “God as a Verb” – A Response to “”Without Buddha I Could Not Be a Christian” by Prof. Paul F. Knitter

    In his newest book, “Without Buddha I Could Not Be a Christian”, Prof. Paul F. Knitter, who holds the Paul Tillich chair at Union Theological Seminary, speaks of God as being a verb instead of a noun or an adjective.

    As a Christian, who has also studied Buddhism and who has many Buddhist friends, I’ve found this book to be both courageous and enlightening. You may as well. Christianity teaches us that where two or more are gathered in his name, God is present. I believe that whenever we come to together in an interfaith dialog, to share our experiences of God, then we are also coming together as a “People of God,” regardless of our different cultural, linguistic, and religious backgrounds.

    In looking at the nature of God, Prof. Knitter uses both a Christian and a Buddhist lens to image God as an experience. In doing so he ties together Christian mysticism and Buddhist practices, found in meditation, prayer, and the sacrament of silence. In the case of Buddhism these practices go back 2500 years, in the case Christianity they go back 2000 years.

    The 20th century Christian theologian Karl Rahner once wrote: “In the future Christians will be mystics, or they will not be anything.” In Christianity the primary adjective used to describe mystical experiences is unitive or in union with, meaning that such an experience is to feel “oneself connected with, part of, united with, aware of, one with, something or some-activity larger than oneself.” In short, this is an experience of the non-duality of God that begins for Christians with kenosis, the Greek word for emptiness or to empty ourselves as Christ emptied himself, becoming a servant to all humankind. 1

    Meister Eckhart – Emptiness:

    “Where one is emptied of self, ideas, concepts, assumptions, images, and all else; God pours himself into the soul, and the light at the core of the soul grows so strong, it spills out holiness and radiates through the whole person.”

    “Therefore discard the form and be joined to the formless essence, for the spiritual comfort of God is very subtle.”

    “Only the hand that erases can write the true thing. “

  8. It is all good stuff….”le point vierge” from Merton. I think “vierge” means virgin in French, which I take from the context to me the virginal or immaculate point or place in each of us. Absolutely fascinating to think of it that way–and that a kind of virgin birth could take place in each of us.

    Have a good day at work. Work is good. May all who seek work find work.

    1. Tracy –

      Yes, “Le pont vierge,” is the virgin point within us all, and it has a Sufi connection from the writings of Louis Massignon, who Merton corresponded with on occasion from what I’ve discovered. As well as Abdul Aziz, a Pakistani scholar who first wrote to Merton November 1960, when Merton’s name had been furnished by Massignon.

      This is the best link on these connection I’ve found, or one of them, it makes for some fascinating reading and quite a story. It also touches on his feelings for and relationship with Margie Smith.

      To learn more, read the following. ;-)

  9. Ron said, “But, we are not only human beings, we are spiritual beings as well; created in the image of God. We are an echo of that image in many ways.”

    What does it mean being human + being spiritual? Is someone (such as Gurdjieff, Jeanne de Salzmann, Milarepa and others) who attained a very high level of being, perhaps the highest, still human or is that label meaningless for that level of being?

    I have often pondered over the relationship of the body and “I”. Which may be related to what Ron is saying. I cannot deny that the body is part of my being yet Madame de Salzmann says explicitly “I need sincerely to accept that I am not my body, my mind or my emotions. My real “I” is not temporary. My thoughts, my sensations, my states are continually changing , but the “I” is always here. Something does not change.”

    Gurdjieff says, in Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson that, the Creator-Uni-Being was forced to create the universe to defeat the merciless heropass (time) which was gradually diminishing the volume of the Sun Absolute which was the sole place of his existence. Clearly both the body (the Sun Absolute and the Being of the Creator) were required and inseparable and both participated in the creation of the universe.

    It seems that Being must always need a body even if the bodies can be of different densities of matter. Even the Creator (God) cannot exist without body.

    So now, even though my question is still not clear. How does one distinguish human from spiritual, body from Being. And here I am not speaking of the physical body…which clearly will die. But what about the mystery of what has been created within the body? And if something was obtained/acquired/created because of inhabiting the body, does the body in some sense not continue to exist? As for example my grandparents and parents still exist within me?

  10. My favorite movie is Baraka. It means breath. Lovely movie.
    I do t’ai chi, and the concept of moving inward and then moving outward is very important. Also in Waldorf education-there’s a breathing in time, then a breathing out time, and these alternate throughout the day.

  11. nice essay.
    we are all prone to romanticize our ancestry. it’s as if our lives are too dull and we need to bolster it with anything we can get our hands on. sentimentality does distract me, unless, searching for some meaning, some trail is exposed that illumines my personal existence to m; as if it’s the piece of a puzzle which when finished will show me how i got where i am; and that only to support the appropriateness of my vision for myself…. forget desires and ambition… just what is rightly ordained by some cause and effect.

    example: i am so tickled by a photo my mother gave me of her grandfather backed by her four uncles and the youngest, my grandfather sitting on the arm of the chair… i could write a novel about it. four older children died young exploring the globe. the youngest, a mathematician by trade, survived into his nineties.

    all of that has meaning to me. but it is just a sentimental encouragement to dream about the past and the future.
    question is, of course, are these events relevant to my understanding.

    i’d say yes. it’s just one more help to understanding who i am. i wouldn’t discard any fact of the past which relates to my existence.

    what am i saying… i have no idea. just kind of rolling on your essay. rugged individualists… cf. the noble savage.

  12. you might take a look at the code for opera blogs which allows one to edit one’s comment. proofing my post i see that i need an ‘e’. or referring to me, i am an m.

    another function which might be useful is ‘preview’… which enables proofing, then we, seeing nothing amiss, (and there’s usually one more mistake we miss.), we publish. that’s so civilized.

    1. Thanks for you comment, Scott. Very rich. It was not marred by a missing ‘e.’ I’ve run posts with missing letters also (and even let them stand with a “so be it” over protests). But I think idea of a preview option and I’ll look into it. I want to offer us all a chance to be civilized. T

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