“For the unified mind in accord with the Way all self-centered striving ceases. Doubts and irresolutions vanish and life in true faith is possible. With a single stroke we are freed from bondage; nothing clings to us and we hold nothing. All is empty, clear, self-illuminating, with no exertion of the mind’s power.” –Sengcan
And so I start blogging again. Who knows why, exactly? All I know for sure is that I don’t really care if anybody actually reads this thing or not. This is the part of the trip I’m on now–the part where I realize that I just happen to like weaving potholders (my usual metaphor for making “art”), and that’s the end of it. I don’t really see the need to set up a stand on the sidewalk and advertise those potholders to passing motorists. No, only the weaving matters, and in fact once I’ve “finished” the things, I hardly even look at them again. I’m restless to move on. I seem finally to have learned this about myself.
Every other Sunday morning, I co-host a two-hour radio show on a tiny local station, and for days beforehand I find myself working crazily hard on the themes and playlist, because the planning, for me, is the fun part. Learning new songs, resurrecting old ones, dipping into the histories of genres and the lives of pioneers. Then Butch (my friend and co-host) and I do the show, play songs and talk about them, and all that’s fun and fine–especially when it’s my turn to work the sliders and buttons! But it feels more like aftermath than goal. For one thing, I’m pretty sure that on any given Sunday, anywhere from zero to maybe a dozen people are listening to us at all. It’s soothing and freeing, that anonymity. It’s a lot like the feeling right here and now, in fact, as I type this. There are so many, many blogs out there that only a tiny, mostly accidental group of people will ever glance at mine.
So I’m free. Forgive me for saying so, but it doesn’t seem to matter to me whether the reader (that’s “you,” by the way) exists at all. It’s actually more useful, in fact, to imagine myself alone. After all, I’ve served a lifetime as my own favorite and most loyal witness. By now, I can be “you” just as easily as you can. I ‘m finally learning that, for me, the best joys lie in practice, not performance.
From today’s diary:
I’m getting better at seeing who I am, and being a witness to myself instead of a judge. To throw away the judge, you know, you first have to have an impeccable confidence that you don’t need him anymore, that his absence won’t inspire some personal spiritual crime spree. I think I can safely say that much, for now. And anyway I’ll never really lose that judge, and probably I’m built so that I can’t. So I’ll be witness to this too; I’ll listen to my daily self-chastisements, and wonder how the part of me who still believes they’re true gets through the day.
“I did not read books the first summer; I hoed beans. Nay, I often did better than this. There were times when I could not afford to sacrifice the bloom of the present moment to any work, whether of the head or hands. I love a broad margin to my life. Sometimes, in a summer morning, having taken my accustomed bath, I sat in my sunny doorway from sunrise till noon, rapt in a revery, amidst the pines and hickories and sumachs, in undisturbed solitude and stillness, while the birds sing around or flitted noiseless through the house, until by the sun falling in at my west window, or the noise of some traveller’s wagon on the distant highway, I was reminded of the lapse of time. I grew in those seasons like corn in the night, and they were far better than any work of the hands would have been. They were not time subtracted from my life, but so much over and above my usual allowance. I realized what the Orientals mean by contemplation and the forsaking of works. For the most part, I minded not how the hours went. The day advanced as if to light some work of mine; it was morning, and lo, now it is evening, and nothing memorable is accomplished. Instead of singing like the birds, I silently smiled at my incessant good fortune. As the sparrow had its trill, sitting on the hickory before my door, so had I my chuckle or suppressed warble which he might hear out of my nest. My days were not days of the week, bearing the stamp of any heathen deity, nor were they minced into hours and fretted by the ticking of a clock; for I lived like the Puri Indians, of whom it is said that “for yesterday, today, and tomorrow they have only one word, and they express the variety of meaning by pointing backward for yesterday forward for tomorrow, and overhead for the passing day.” This was sheer idleness to my fellow-townsmen, no doubt; but if the birds and flowers had tried me by their standard, I should not have been found wanting. A man must find his occasions in himself, it is true. The natural day is very calm, and will hardly reprove his indolence.” –Henry David Thoreau (from Walden)
More and more I think of the all-importance of pattern in this world. Finding the pattern, recognizing the pattern, comparing one pattern with another, finding their common sub-patterns, ur-patterns. (Wow, I’ve never used the prefix “ur” before!) Temple Grandin talks of pattern thinkers—got a quote about it somewhere.*
Metaphor and pattern—the same thing, really, just like fable and myth and archetype. It’s all about the comparison/contrast—the only way we can “understand” anything is, first, by contrasting it with what it isn’t like, then comparing it with what it is like. The contrast must automatically come first? I think so. We have an instinct to see everything as “other” until proven otherwise (and even after that). To the extent that we feel “at home” in the world, the world has ceased to be “other” and, whether we recognize it or not, has become an integral expansion of who we already believe ourselves to be—not just where we belong, but who we are, inside our skins but also outside.
Maybe this is why we fret so much about change? All these new “othernesses” to convert into “me-nesses,” “us-nesses,” over and over again. You have to become so nimble, as if you’re crossing a river by leaping from stone to stone. You have to trust life with your life, if only because you have no other choice. (You have to trust that life knows more than you do, because–geez–how could it not?)
I keep coming back to this: the purpose of dualism. It’s a construction–yes?—only that, a pattern we ourselves—with our yes-or-no minds–impose on the universe, to give us a vocabulary, a yardstick to describe things with. This is how we can imagine opposites even to things that don’t exist, or whose existence is beyond our ability to know—things like life vs death, all vs nothing, containment vs limitlessness. (We can imagine heaven, perhaps, to the exact degree we’ve known hell?) And on and on.
*Here’s the Temple Grandin quote:
“I’ve given a great deal of thought to the topic of different ways of thinking. In fact, my pursuit of this topic has led me to propose a new category of thinker in addition to the traditional visual and verbal: pattern thinkers.”
And then there’s this that I just found:
And while I’m at it, why not: