During our 3rd sit together, we briefly explored and sat with they role of our natural world in stirring us from our slumbers.
In my recent four-year stint away from Alpine, I think the things for which I was most homesick were the sweeping vistas and the gray expanse of the Milky Way. Aside from sentimentality, the reason these places stick is that they offer experiences that take us out of our normal state of being somewhat asleep at the wheel. The first time I saw the sun come up over Lost Mine Peak, it was as if I wasn’t actually there as a separate observer. It was a sensation in the pit of my stomach, a falling away of surety about the world. That may not sound comforting, but it’s when we’re fixed in our views that our lives don’t go so well, and when those views evaporate we’re suddenly faced with who we really. That varies of course for each of us, but at our core–literally in how are brains are wired–we evolved outside. Not in front of a computer screen (yes, I’m a hypocrite!) all day. And so at times when we step out into our original home–the natural world–we are presented with splendor that doesn’t just impress us as supposedly separate observers, but that literally returns us to a sense of integrity (and I mean that in the sense of integer–of oneness) with all things. And it’s from that sense of integrity in being that we can respond appropriately to what life needs instead of just reacting or being doormats. It may even engender in us a sense of vow–a deep intention as to what we want to do with our brief incarnation as this particular arrangement of atoms. And as Shōhaku Okumura put it in his masterpiece, Living By Vow, if we’re not living by vow, we’re being drug around by karma. To take us back to week one’s lojong slogan–train in the preliminaries–finding this sense of deep, wholehearted intention is something we will encounter as our meditation practices gain consistency and as we avail ourselves to the natural world all around us.
In his book, Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind, Suzuki Roshi described his experience of witnessing a waterfall in Yosemite National Park in 1965:
“…the water comes down like a curtain thrown from the top of the mountain. It does not seem to come down swiftly, as you might expect; it seems to come down very slowly because of the distance. And the water does not come down as one stream, but is separated into many tiny streams. From a distance it looks like a curtain. And I thought it must be very difficult for each drop of water to come down from the top of such a high mountain. It takes time, you know, a long time, for the water finally to reach the bottom of the waterfall. And it seems to me, that our human life may be like this. We have many difficult experiences in our life. But at the same time, I thought, the water was not originally separated, but was one whole river. Only when it is separated does it have some difficulty in falling. …after we are separated by birth from this oneness, as the water falling form the waterfall is separated by the wind and rocks, then we have feeling. You have difficulty because you have feeling, you attach to the feeling you have without knowing just how this kind of feeling is created. When you do not realize that you are one with the river, or one with the universe, you have fear. Whether it is separated into drops or not, water is water. Our life and death are the same thing. When we realize this fact we have no fear of death anymore, and we have no actual difficulty in our life.”
Suzuki Roshi goes on to describe this sense of being both at one with what is experiencing and a mindful observer as big mind. We might even call it grace.
So, for those of you who weren’t able to sit with us this past Thursday, the guided portion of our meditation simply asked for us each to recall a place in the natural world in which we experienced big mind. If you want to give it a shot at home, recall it, and as you sit, lean into this place. Breathe into it–what does the air feel like as it passes into your body? What does it feel like on your skin to be in the presence of this place? What does the pit of your stomach feel like as you gaze upon and inhabit this place? What sounds do you hear? What colors do you see? What textures do you feel? What smells do you notice? As you observe yourself and this place, what feelings arise and pass? As you slip into zazen, bring this place with you. Continue to lean into it. Continue to breathe it in and out. Feel its subtleties and dramatic features.Notice what this mind of observation feels like. You might label it, home. And you might ask yourself, who is the one doing the observing?
You can read our closing chant, Dogen’s Self-fulfilling Samadhi, here.
I look forward to sitting with you.