October 15, 2012

Our Ocean & Our Waves.

An instant realization sees endless time.

Endless time is as one moment.

When one comprehends the endless moment

He realizes the person who is seeing it.

~ Mumon

Waves ripple out across the ocean until they crash onto sharp coral reefs or long stretches of rock-strewn beaches.

Born from violent winds, powerful waves have the ability to sink vessels and carry their remains across the sea to distant shores, littering coastlines with the relics of human history and the bones of marine life. Cyclones, Pacific low-pressure systems and hurricanes sweep out to turn a once calm sunny day into a ferocious scene of wind and rain. Riding out these storms and the waves they generate, can represent an arduous task for the most seasoned and experienced sailors—those who have seen their fair share of hardships and rogue breakers.

But this metaphor of the sea runs parallel with the rampant nature of the surface-level mind under duress. The seasoned sailor here might represent someone who has found various ways to cope with the turbulent nature of rough surroundings, stress and doubt through some outside means or the cultivation of strong inner defenses.

Illness, broken glass, an angry spouse, melting frozen yogurt and melancholy are their own kinds of storms that pulse through the mind, creating thunderous swells and churning thought-based rip tides.

If there isn’t something to anchor into when a storm comes, our own mind-made waves can pull us under and shake our foundations. If this is so, then mindfulness practice is the realization that the mind (the ocean) is far vaster than the rolling swells of manifested thoughts, opinions, and reactions simmering along the surface.

Through practice, it becomes evident that the cavernous depth of the mind is capable of digesting the unknown and mirroring back what appears before it—not just the immediacy of the wave (our internal reaction to an event) but the entirety of the ocean that bore the manifestation. In this sense, the all-encompassing background of the present moment comes to meet its reflection against the mirror of the all-encompassing background of the mind.

Without discrimination or boundaries, the wilderness of the background is spacious and here. It’s the inconceivable expanse of a greater body of fluctuations, stretched out beyond the horizon and yet at the same time, resting intimately in our hands. Though this is Mumon’s kind of talk, melting down into such changes takes time and sincere effort, so it might be an intriguing venture to begin seeing through the immediacy of marching waves one at a time.

When we can let go during times of adversity or stress and step into the “endless” moment, the inner depth makes itself known to us that much more clearly.

The sudden brilliance of the sky viewed from a once hazed-in perspective, tears down our mental walls and flips our rigid ideas about reality. It may take a moment or a month but the shedding of density to step into openness can represent a simple and yet life-altering experience.

The English poet Edward Thomas commented on the slow peeling away of a set state of mind toward open-ended acceptance in his poem Melancholy:

“The rain and wind, the rain and wind, raved endlessly.

On me the Summer storm, and fever, and melancholy

Wrought magic, so that if I feared the solitude

Far more I feared all company: too sharp, too rude,

Had been the wisest or the dearest human voice.

What I desired I knew not, but whate’er my choice

Vain it must be, I knew. Yet naught did my despair
 (the switch)

But sweeten the strange sweetness, while through the wild air

All day long I heard a distant cuckoo calling

And, soft as dulcimers, sounds of near water falling,

And, softer, and remote as if in history,

Rumours of what had touched my friends, my foes, or me.”

As the poet persists in feeling a sense of alienation from the world, he begins to see through the wave of loneliness and comes to deepen into a new, broader perspective that allows the present moment to seep into his experience as it is. He notices the prevalence of a wild sweetness around him: bird calls, the scent of a nearby forest, and the slight rushing sound of a stream hidden among the trees permeate through his being and chip away at the statues of thought-based worship in his mind—that is, the belief that his state of mind, his melancholy, rules supreme when in reality it has no bearing on the grandeur of existence.

Thomas’s melancholy as well as the hot gossip of the town, are waves that carry as much weight and size as he chooses to bestow upon them. As the poet’s perspective expands and he melts into the tapestry of life, what appears before him and the reactionary waves of the mind, become increasingly faint and distant, allowing the world to be the world and reality to be reality.

The waves are still part of life, it’s just that they don’t have the same pull to them they used to possess. His ideas about how things “should be” begin to crack and the harsh words of others take on an illusory nature—very real and here, yet thrust out from infinity for a moment in history.

The poem teaches us that the wonder of feeling and witnessing the damp pressure of a mind-storm, even in the midst of a beautiful summer afternoon, can change our lives. Through the action of seeing beyond a wave, magically, the bottom drops out below us while the waves roil a thousand leagues above catching the glint of the sun and shimmering in their own way—individual diamonds linked into an endless parade.

All states of mind have their own kind of beauty and relevance on the journey.

But Thomas’s slow unraveling into the scenery and, for the purpose of this interpretation, the beginning of a spiritually-based relationship with the world, is only part of the whole process of an inner transformation. The endearing romance of the honeymoon period with life after crashing down our walls. Viewing the vastness of the interconnected ocean comes to an end. The consummation of the marriage deepens into heated disagreements, the uncovering and sharing of old wounds, and long walks on the beach, hand-in-hand, laughing below the drum of pounding surf.

Ryokan, a Japanese Zen teacher and poet from the 18th century highlights the complexity of our deepening relationship with life when he wrote,

“Who says my poems are poems?

My poems aren’t poems!

Once you get that my poems aren’t poems,

Then we can start talking about poems.”

Left to its own devices, the flirtation with letting go of our smaller selves and witnessing the world from the point of view of vastness could lead to the pursuit of wanting to be left alone—a quest to soar into the reclusive clouds of spirituality to leave the troubles of our world and our life behind. We might also wish to ignore our dislikes and stay with what’s docile and positive. But that would just lead to an inevitable crash, a natural cycle back into the viscous mantle of what is dense and soulful.

If we live truly in this world of ours—with its gossip, its tragedy and its bouts of hilarious comedy—then we might want to re-enter the fray with our newly uncovered depth in hand.

At this stage, Ryokan might say, “Now we can start talking about poems… Now we can really enter into the experience of living.”  The action of letting go, of flight, must come back down to the muddy, flower infused realm of the ground.

If the Zen poet were to run into Edward Thomas, he might tell him, “Melancholy isn’t melancholy!” How wonderful, we are the ocean and thus the hardships of life are one gigantic illusion of human experience. But then we are pulled back in, sucked into life with a new understanding, the image of the horizon-less ocean burned into our interaction with the world and the waves of the mind.

Life is still full of ups and downs and with this, we sink below the surface and play with the surf. And then, naturally, “ah, now we can delve into melancholy!” Ryokan’s leap away creates a profound sense of connection that can only come to fruition through coming back and getting our hands dirty in the damp soil of human experience with an open mind and a fresh breeze.

~ Editor: Lynn Hasselberger

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