"Like the study of science and art, accounts of historical events can be intrinsically fascinating. But they have a wider significance. I believe that people are better able to chart their life course and make life decisions when they know how others have dealt with pressures and dilemmas---historically, contemporaneously, and in works of art. And only equipped with such understanding can we participate knowledgeably in contemporary discussions (and decisions) about the culpability of various individuals and countries in the Second World War. Only with such understanding can we ponder the responsibilty of human beings everywhere to counter current efforts at genocide in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia to bring the perpetrators to justice."
"...we humans are the kinds of animals who learn chiefly by observing others---what they value, what they spurn, how they conduct themselves from day to day, and especially, what they do when they believe that no one is looking."
----Howard Gardner, from The Disciplined Mind, published in 1999

Friday, June 29, 2007

Calling the Lama from Afar; or, What the River Gave Me

Dear reader, I am most glad that you are here to keep me "on task," as the shop talk goes.
I've challenged myself here in this venue not only to develop the habit, the practice of writing, but to assign words to that which I normally would---as the New Testament was fond of saying about a practice of Mary the Mother of Jesus---keep and treasure in my heart.
Whenever I would read this about Mary in the Bible, I would say, yes, I can see that; and in reading these accounts, I would always feel a well-springing forth of good feeling and deep affection: one that was not replicated when reading any other part of the Gospels.

This summer here has been so humid and still, as it has for you as well, perhaps. My sons and I have spent much time at our lovely river. The boys enjoy wading into it all, to see what they might find, scooping up and sifting silty through their hands: crayfish, minnows, pebbles, skipping stones. That boy I would chase by this same river, he the Gingerbread Boy, I, wanting some sugar, is now taller than I and teaching his much younger brother the finesse in the skipping of stones. He's even perfected the art of skipping crayfish. Can I say what a gleeful thing that is? And how eager his younger brother is to move onto that craft?
Me, I enjoy sitting on the soft bank, in the green-silver light that reminds me of the light of della Francesca or that other Northern Italian Renaissance painter who so articulated the quick-silver shimmer. It is often spoken in Zen practice that one may practice zazen most anywhere, doing most anything, and I attempt to realize this in my day-to-day. Laughing at skipping crayfish as they bounce upstream, knowing that their Mr.Toad's Wild Ride will be over soon enough is one of the ways that I practice.

I've mentioned Buddhist practice before to you, dear reader. What I must tell you is that I have no official affiliation as to my form of practice; I attend no bricks-and-mortar sangha. I am one who feels very much at home with the minimal or the baroque: thus I find my practice is informed by not only Zen, but by the distinct Mahayana form of Buddhism that is Tibetan Buddhism.
As Zen is particularly amenable to solitary practice (thanks, Boddhidharma!), Tibetan Buddhism is best realized when practiced under the tutelage of a lama. Having no access to a Tibetan-lineage sangha, much less to a lama, when I sometimes feel the need of a lama, I think of the experience that I've held and treasured in my heart, as Mother Mary: the puja destroying the sand mandala. I think of the aged lama who led the puja, who with beauty and ferocity in slow motion took gorgeous complexity and brushed it into a pile of muddy-colored sand.That first moment, when brush came to sand, seemed to turn the world in every sense to me.

Dear reader, it is one of the things I keep and treasure in my heart.

My younger son and I visited the river one day last week when we found ourselves to our own devices. Yes, he caught a few crayfish; after collecting them to see who was biggest? who was tiniest? they all were happily released to the current. On his way wading out, he noticed something from beneath a rock, and plucked it out: a small rodent skull, perfectly clean of flesh and hair. May I keep it? he asked. Sure, I replied. As he set it on a rock to adjust his shoe, we noticed it leaking. (Here, I must tell you, if you are somewhat squeamish, please skip ahead.)Although the skull was perfectly clean, the cold temperature of the river, in tandem with the inverted position in which it was wedged beneath the rock, must have allowed for the retention of some small amount of brain-matter in the skull cup to remain, and to decompose at a much slower rate than the rest of the flesh.
Can I keep it?
And so, dear reader, this is how I found myself shaking a rodent skull over the river to dislodge the remaining funky brain-stew so that it might exit the small aperature at the base of the skull through which the spine, with its bundle of nerves went crackling: you can imagine how it went, dear reader; it was exactly the action one uses when one shakes the ketchup out of the bottle onto a plate of fries.

So what did the river give me?
It gave me the most funny koan of a skipping crayfish, like the twirling of a flower.
It gave me a message from the lama from afar: like so much brain-stew into the silver current; an affirmation of life in all its complexity and simplicity; beautiful and not-so-beautiful.
This is the picture.



min said...

I'm glad you left us with the lotus and not the brain stew.

The Artist formerly Known as Purpleworms (!) said...

Perhaps the brain stew is a lotus in another sense.

neroli said...

Dear Min,
Don't you just love it when that happens?

neroli said...

Dear Artist,

Very much so. For me at least, when inviting equanimity down by the riverside to sit a spell.