The wind drops but the flowers still fall;
A bird sings, and the mountain holds yet more mystery.
from Haiku, by R.H. Blyth
I sit on an antique rocking chair, a steaming mug of tea on the side table, hands on the keyboard, waiting for inspiration to arrive. One might assume that inspiration requires a hushed silence for its entrance, but it’s anything but silent where I sit. Little yellow birds are in impassioned conference outside my window, the wind rustles and groans through the maple tree, a siren calls in the distance, rain water drips persistently from the gutters, but from that place which produces Musings articles, there is…nothing. I’m conscious of the similarity between staring at a blinking cursor on the first line of a Word document and facing a blank wall in meditation. Both experiences share the flavors of a cultivation of patient receptivity, a straining then a relaxing, an emptying of effort, a steadying of breath, a letting go of expectation that insight will arrive on demand. This “blankness” where words should be, while not unfamiliar territory is not a terrain that I have traversed in some time. Usually, the “gap” is brimming with ideas jostling for cohesive expression; other times, the article stands majestically complete, serenely awaiting transcription. This time there was just an emptiness, a spaciousness that lulled me into stillness. As I waited, I watched myself being tuned by Emptiness to receive its transmission; a narrowing of attention, a slowing down of time, a quieting of the breath and body, a calibration to nuance. Perhaps, I mused, Emptiness simply wants this Musings to be a capping phrase, a zenrin kushu…
A bird sings
A siren calls
The wind moans
Why not? Isn’t that what IS, NOW?
A whisper of something lifts my eyes to scan the room. A title jumps at me from the bookshelf… a cookbook, The Joy of an Empty Pot. I chuckle in delight and reach for it.
“Why is an empty pot joyful?” I read.
Because it’s not empty, the author writes, it brims with the potential of all possibilities. A symbol of humility, the perfect receptacle, willing to wait to be summoned into service. It humbly accepts whatever the cook decides it must hold and needs no recognition of a job well done when it’s returned to the shelf, shining and clean after it has played its role. The perfection of the metaphor, the empty pot, the blank computer screen, and the “uninspired me” listening to Emptiness takes my breath away. Perhaps that is the message of Emptiness. Here, now, is never “blank.” Presence brims with embodiment. What are you not seeing?
The wind rustles in the maple tree…the mind wanders, attention rests on another title. This time, Emptiness is in Dogen’s voice, Instructing a Zen Cook. “Handle even a single leaf of green in such a way that it manifests the body of the Buddha. This in turn allows the Buddha to manifest through the leaf. This is a power which you cannot grasp with your rational mind. It operates freely, according to the situation in the most natural way. At the same time, this power functions in our lives to clarify and settle activities and is beneficial to all living things.” Laughter bubbles up. This power is writing this article, I think, delighting in its whimsy and reveling in the utter joy of being carried by the wisdom of the wind. All it requires, something writes, is an attitude of reverence, an approach that signals an awareness of its nature. It will always respond true to its nature, a generous revealing which in itself is a benediction.
Blessed Is the Knowledge of Emptiness.
It does not seem a coincidence that we recently embarked on a retreat, the subject of which is Emptiness. To realize Emptiness is not just locked into the poetry of mystical experience, but that it is here, now, available as the animating Intelligence of every moment, blessed is that knowledge indeed.
On a recent radio show, the Guide was talking to a caller about the importance of coming from a place that is compassionate to all. “Christ,” she said, “did not ask us to turn the other cheek from a place of deprivation. He was able to offer that perspective from a place of fulfillment.” What is that place, that can contain all contradictions and reconcile all opposites?
Perhaps it is an afternoon of solitude in an armchair, listening to the wind and rain and twittering of birds. Perhaps it is the willingness to be empty of oneself, to be the empty pot, content to receive whatever is given. For as Kafka says, of getting in touch with this place of fulfillment, “You do not have to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.”