Some of you may have noticed that I’ve been away for a time (thank you for reading this!) I’ve been working on Parabola’s wonderful new issue, walking, and reflecting. Wondering if I should keep going with a blog, wondering it doesn’t just contribute to the great information flood that threatens to drown us all.
Reflection is the word I am using at present for a process very different than thinking, a way of making space for a deeper kind of knowing arise, for letting our lived truth, our wisdom, rise slowly to the head. Many of our metaphors are based on the experience of being in a body (I have a book on this somewhere in my teetering piles of books) When an insight or realization “dawns” on us, it mirrors the experience of having a deeper knowing rise like the sun, from the depths of the living body, lighting us up. This kind of knowing has a certainty and clarity that ordinary thinking, however brilliant, lacks. It has a deeper, softer, steadier glow. It shines with a conviction that comes from lived experience. When this knowing dawns in our consciousness, it brings real presence to what we say. Asked how he made his extraordinary music, the jazz great Thelonius Monk once told an interviewer there are only so many notes, the key was meaning the notes. There are only so many letters in the alphabet too. You bring your life to those words, people feel it.
Reflection is not flashy. An old boss once referred to a co-worker who swiftly moved up and out as “blindingly brilliant.” How I wished I could be like that! I too wanted to be so dazzling I would be seen and scooped up and given a perch high up on the tree of success, above the flood. of time and impermanence and fleeting impressions and desires and distractions that is sweeping me along. But slowly, I stopped wanting that. Slowly, haltingly (my way of doing most things), it has dawned on me that blinding brilliance doesn’t matter. Touching the earth matters.
According to legend, as Siddhartha Gautama sat under a tree, breathing and being present, seeking to discover what it might mean to wake up in this world, the great devil Mara came and challenged him–basically asking him who or what gave him the right just to sit there, breathing, being with the sensation of breathing, watching his ordinary thoughts and feelings arise and peak and pass away, abiding in the fields of his own conscious experience. According to the legend, Siddhartha reached down and touched the Earth, and the Earth spoke: “I bear you witness!” Mara gave up tempting and terrifying young Sid, leaving him to go on just sitting there, breathing and abiding. As the morning star rose in the sky, he woke up and became the Buddha (or Awakened One).
The traditional interpretation is that the Earth bore witness to the Buddha’s many life times of search and effort, affirming that he had earned his right to sit. But as in every great myth, there is room for more interpretation, more meaning, deeper and more immediate truth. The earth is our own bodies, our own our breathing, our own capacity to be present. The morning star is that experience of dawning of living, breathing experience dawning in the realm consciousness–it the wisdom that is seeing the truth in a direct and nonverbal way, in the language of our lives here and now.
Siddhartha Guatama left his palace home, left his wife and infant son, at a time of great stagnation, impasse, shut down. A small group of Brahmins were in control and the general feeling was that things were not going well, not at alll. At the time that Siddhartha left home to find another way, many others were also “going forth.” And he did find another way, a way that was very radical and against the stream, he sat down under a tree and just abided quietly. He touched the earth.