Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thankful for the insight

Thankful for the foliage, Amherst, NH, Nikon D40 with 18-200mm VR lens, Focal length 18mm, Exposure 1/60 sec @ f3.5, ISO 200, exposure bias -4/3 stop, no flash, circular polarizing filter © Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]

I received the assembled quotes below from Mitchell Ratner, a Senior Teacher at the Stillwater Mindful Practice Center. I've only been there once (they are in the DC area), but continue to receive their e-mail meditation topics. They practice in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh, with whom I seem to resonate.

Below he describes some of his concepts of "Interbeing". A recognition of the inter-relationships that make up every thing we see (and tend to take as a separate object). It is a very different way to view the world, and once internalized, makes it so much easier to recognize our shared humanity and mutual dependency. Which of course is what nature teaches us every day if we pay attention.

I hope on this Thanksgiving Day holiday, you are able to take a moment and reflect upon not only all that for which you can be grateful, but also how that relates to so much more of the world around us. Indeed, we can be grateful for it all, for we are but a small part of this world, and this world is us.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Extracts from The Miracle of Mindfulness, by Thich Nhat Hanh
[Excerpts assembled by Rev. Susan Manker-Seale]
“I like to walk alone on country paths, rice plants and wild grasses on both sides, putting each foot down on the earth in mindfulness, knowing that I walk on the wondrous earth.  In such moments, existence is a miraculous and mysterious reality.  People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle.  But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth.  Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize:  a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child--our own two eyes.  All is a miracle...

"…the great body of reality is indivisible.  It cannot be cut into pieces with separate existences of their own…

“Consider the example of a table.  The table’s existence is possible due to the existence of things which we might call ‘the non-table world’:  the forest where the wood grew and was cut, the carpenter, the iron ore which became the nails and screws, and countless other things which have relation to the table, the parents and ancestors of the carpenter, the sun and rain which made it possible for the trees to grow.

“If you grasp the table’s reality then you see that in the table itself are present all those things which we normally think of as the non-table world.  If you took away any of those non-table elements and returned them to their sources--the nails back to the iron ore, the wood to the forest, the carpenter to his parents--the table would no longer exist.

“A person who looks at the table and can see the universe is a person who can see the way…

“We have to strip away all the barriers in order to live as part of the universal life.  A person isn’t some private entity traveling unaffected through time and space as if sealed off from the rest of the world by a thick shell…  In our lives are present a multitude of phenomena, just as we ourselves are present in many different phenomena.  We are life, and life is limitless.”

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Why bother?

Floating leaf, Tucker Pond, Salisbury, NH, October 2007, Nikon D40 with 18-200mm VR lens, Focal length 200mm, Exposure 1/50 sec @ f5.6, ISO 200, exposure bias -1/3 stop, no flash, circular polarizing filter © Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]

Personal transformation has a difficult time breaking through the husk of comfort. Why bother, the essence asks? You are comfortable and secure inside your shell. You are protected. Life is pretty nice, just the way it is.

Are you a gardener? A tender of plants? A planter of seeds?

Sometimes, depending on the seed, to encourage germination you are advised by the packet to soak the seeds overnight, or to scratch the seed shell to encourage root emergence. Yes, sometimes, even nature provides too much comfort to allow the essence to emerge, and to grow and develop. At least, much of the time.

So what to do? Only a fool would cast aside the safety and security developed over years of careful planning and execution, right?

Only a fool indeed. A fool that had seen glimpses of the creative energy that is life itself. A fool that rested among the rustling grasses, warmed by the setting sun, smiling at the birds overhead as they began their journey south, pulled by an unseen and unnamed force. It is that force — subtle and nondescript, at least in the language of our work-a-day world — that begs this question: ‘why bother?’

Why bother, indeed. Just who is keeping score? Will you be a success or a failure at this game called life? How big is the field, just where are the goal posts? Help, you ask, please — the rules are changing as you think. Or better, once you stop thinking. And start to listen. To that small, quiet voice — it’s a feeling, really — deep within — or maybe out there somewhere — in another dimension perhaps — hitting you with a glancing blow, from an oblique angle, orthogonal to what we call the “real world”.

You know, it’s funny. You know the answer. You absolutely know what to do. This is the revelation.

The question is — do you trust that insight? Will you follow its guidance — and take the needed risks? Put your own comfort, and the security of your family, at risk? Is this nothing more than a selfish endeavor? Why do you get to make the call? Just who says that’s OK?

You know the “right” answer. But do you have the courage and the conviction? The depth of faith? (Oh God how I’ve come to hate that word.) Will you take action?

Just a few more years, you hear yourself saying. Until you earn some more money. Build up a bigger nest egg. Then you’ll be able to do what is asked. What you ask. Be patient. You have responsibilities. You must think not only of yourself.

Oh, but what of those souls that never act — who suppress their essence. They remained ungerminated. Dead, within their soil and their soul. Contributing to our collective evolution only though their own decomposition. Compost for the next soul. May the next one have the strength and the urgency.

No, you cannot accept that fate. Sure, that will be your end, but you have so much life left to live. So much creation left within you. This is your chance to influence the flow. To dip your toe into the stream of life, and make a unique contribution to the river of dreams.

No, you will not recoil from this challenge. You will not ignore this invitation. You are one of the lucky ones. You have asked “why?” You have listened for the answer. You may have even glimpsed into the fire of the moment. Seen the cauldron of creation. Witnessed the peace of the Now. The bliss of awareness. The reflection of beauty in every thing — which we label “pretty” and “ugly”.

The real crime would be to leave that insight to fend for itself. You must water it — fertilize it — keep it warm — even transplant it if needed. You cannot let this languish, to be overtaken by the weeds of the mundane and routine. It is too precious. At least you think so.

But this spark – this essence — is everywhere. So if you ignore it, it will not matter. Life will keep offering up the opportunity the each of us.

But you don’t want to ignore it.

This is where you'll find your bliss. You must follow that, says Joseph Campbell. But you know, it is different than pursuing a goal. You do not imagine it and then create it. Instead, it finds you. I’ve had this experience, maybe two or three times. It is almost indescribable. Picture yourself with a gentle smile — not a big grin, but certainly not a frown. A contented awareness. A satisfied knowing. A pleasantly surprised insight. And a recognition of the oneness in which we exist. This is the bliss I am talking about.

Time slows down. You can almost see the flux of life as it flows around the toe you have dipped in the water. That is the difference you have made. Without you, it would be something else. You are now a part of it. Not a leaf caught on the surface in the eddy of a backwash, but the rock itself that alters the stream's meander.

This is why you bother. This is why it is worth your time, and your energy. This is why it demands your courage. This is why it requires your faith and your trust. This is why it is worth the risk. Yes, I am sure it is worth the risk. Are you?

Come with me. Hold my hand. I’ll help you, and you can help me. Together, we will take the plunge. We will put one foot in front of the other. We will walk toward the stream. And when we get to the water's edge, we will sit for a while. We will convince ourselves that we know what we are doing. Even though we cannot know.

And then we will take off our shoes, roll up our pants, and step confidently into the stream. Come. Come with me. We need each other. Now is when we need to act. This is why we bother.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Fall comes quickly

Fall comes quickly, Amherst, NH, October 2007, Nikon D40 with 18-200mm VR lens, Focal length 18mm (varying), Exposure 1/30 sec @ f3.5, ISO 720, exposure bias -2/3 stop, no flash, circular polarizing filter © Steven Crisp [Click on the photo to enlarge]
I thank You God for most this amazing day;
for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;
and for everything which is natural
which is infinite
which is yes.

-e.e. cummings