try as I might
to find a then and a when
in this ever-spinning cosmos
the needle of now
stays stuck in its groove
Art by Fiona Watson, Music of the Spheres
This is what I love about fog:
space is rendered opaque
so I get to see
to see the emptiness I ordinarily move through
to its strange solidity.
I had it all back to front –
assuming my solidity and its, well, nothingness.
One night a few months ago I asked how
Dōgen’s “aware space” *
might be made evident, physically perceivable,
experience-able beyond conceptualization
and next morning I woke up to thick fog.
I thought, OK let’s color it pink
to make it even more evident
– no problem for a visual mind like mine –
but then I noticed that my hands,
the exhalation of my breath,
my table, my room, my coffee,
everything was permeated with pinkness.
In high school science class I was taught:
An atom consists of 99.9999999999996% “empty space”
and should all the “empty space”
be vacuumed out of one’s body
the solid matter remaining would fit
on the point of a pin.
(Along with all those dancing quantum angels.)
And I lost it, almost wet myself laughing . . .
“You mean . . .?”
I’m leaving it to you, dear reader,
to join the dots for yourself.
If you do, you’ll never again be puzzled
by the paradox of the Prajñāpāramitā.
– – –
That’s how teachings arrive for me:
a question goes out
and the universe serves a set-up
perfectly calibrated for comprehension
by this old cow’s unique version
Painting by UK artist Alan Perriman, Fog – one of a series where he sets out to express in visual language a short Japanese poem.
Because fog engulfs
the house where I am
I feel as though
I have floated into the sky
* Dōgen’s “Aware Space”:
I was sitting with a commentary on Dōgen zenji’s Being Time, given by Anzan Hoshin roshi.
He said, “Dōgen is pointing out the way Aware Space embodies itself as each of you, and how each of you unfold yourselves as each other and as all things, as all beings, all times, all worlds.”
Gulp. God I love Dōgen.
I’m a fool with little need of company.
There’s no one deemed respectable here,
so how could I demand respect?
When recognition only brings busyness,
how could I not love invisibility?
Knowing that mind is the slayer of silence
why would I want “the last word?”
Saturated by streaming aliveness
how could I be lonely?
I cherish the extraordinariness
of ordinary suchness
but few know what that looks like,
so I’ll tell you:
The birds come to my birdbath.
The dogs wag their tails
when I open my door.
My luna-lover beams at me
without reproach or expectation.
My cup runneth over
and the ants make the most of it;
they even cart off my toenail clippings.
When the tide of breath runs out
they will claim every scrap of this body
and have a banquet with the worms.
And their scats will feed the earth;
new grass will grow in the summer,
sap will rise in the trees
and they will exhale my smile.
I will be breathed back
into the fecundity of space.
Just like that.
And that’s enough for me.
Image: Philip Sutton, The Tree, 1958
The continuation of the spiritual journey really depends on how crazy we’re willing to be.
– Reggie Ray
I had no idea I’d end up this crazy. Or this contented. Or this fulfilled. Don’t ask me about happiness – it’s a sub-category these days. Imagine being happy to be unhappy? Imagine being contented to feel like shit? Imagine being at peace with pain and weariness? Imagine being ok with depression, flatness, confusion? If this isn’t your version of liberation I totally understand. (We all start out on this journey imagining ‘waking up’ will magically erase all discomfort from our experience.)
But this absurd liberation lives here, and this is what the crazy cow offers tonight: five three-liners of the slightly nonsensical variety. They like to think they are haiku, but would duck and hide in the presence of ‘real’ haiku. Apologies for my warping of noble zen aphorisms, koans and haiku. I mean no disrespect; after all these years they are deeply embroidered in the fabric of this brain and have a life of their own.
My sanity does too. Where the hell did I put it?
old flesh, old bones
on the zafu, aches come and go
just like I used to
weary old mind
data flows in, data drops out
music to my ears…
the sound of someone else
puddle on zafu
old cow’s melted-down stories
what is the sound of my neighbor’s dog
About the image. This delightful brush drawing comes from the cover of an exhibition catalogue: L’Au-delà dans l’art japonaise. Paris 1963. Nowhere in the book does it mention the name of the artist whose work is featured on the cover. My instincts tend towards Sengai… what do you think?
alone in my hut
[no one here to invent me]
Seventy three missions
around the sun and not
one thing of worldly value
to show for it.
No savvy safety-nets:
investment portfolios, insurance policies,
plans A, B and C. I walk the way
of not-knowing and wonderment.
Lofty notions of enlightenment, bliss,
exalted understanding have no buyer here;
I’ll take this uninvited, serene,
free and priceless fulfilment.
See, today I heard the air sing
as it danced through the rainbow wings
of a Lorikeet suspended
Today I watched cumulonimbus
massing in the west, those
sculpted edges alive with flaming gold
as the sun went down.
Tonight, as dusk fell
bringing cool relief to the sweating forest
I giddily inhaled a draught
laden with night-scented Jessamine.
And it is enough. Whatever may lie ahead
for this beloved bag of bones
the simple sensuous joy of being Presence
Rainbow Lorikeet hovering. Photograph by Trevor Andersen.
Here I am.
Sitting in Paradise
Breathing the tide of clarity – in it comes
crystal-clear, out it goes,
often muddied by mind –
and I smile as this lifestream flows on
saturating each sensation, yet
paying no heed;
never cocking an eyebrow or casting a vote,
only ever reminding me:
Here I am
here and now
as This, and This and This.
The current version of Paradise finds me staying in a place of great beauty, beside a large lake. This entire year has unfolded as a series of deep retreats. It is a time for, and of, integration. Health issues are being lovingly tended and their emotional causality explored. It’s both harrowing and heart-swelling: Grace delivers whatever is needed, reminding me I signed up for the Full Monty.
Apropos of nothing (I never go fishing) these three small poems landed in my net:
breathing with the lake
Monet-mind beside the Seine
black swans glide by, curious:
pounding the lakeside path
fog hiding the lake
one solitary oarsman
rows through melting space
Photograph taken from my zafu.
She-who-scribbles has been in d-e-e-p retreat for some weeks; don’t expect sense anytime soon.
Everything is dancing today.
A rabbit pulls a pipe
from his waistcoat pocket,
Breathes deep and fingers
a scatter of twinkling
This causes a few planets and I
to go nuts
and start a little jig.
Someone sees us,
tries to get me
Listen: this world is a loony-bin.
It’s only real if you’re chronically
if you haven’t made the
into wild foolishness.
Even with its firmness
beneath my feet
and the mailman knowing
my street number
I hang out somewhere else:
with partying bunnies
and a cosmos spinning
in giddy delight.
Reading Hafiz’s poem Then Winks catapulted my brain over to Beatrix Potter and her partying rabbits. Or was it the other way around?
Purists will protest my highjack and mash-up of Hafiz’s words, forgetting that they aren’t even his – rather, they are the Hafiz-inspired outpourings of Daniel Landinsky.
Beatrix – who knew the truth about bunnies and most things – would smile knowingly.
Daniel – well, he knows what it is to be gripped by a verse and taken for a ride.
As for Hafiz – I’ll ask him next time we’re in our cups and jiving…
Beatrix Potter watercolour from bibliodyssey blog.