Morning dew often clings to the surface of tree leaves hanging outside the kitchen window.
The sunlight breaks through and illuminates the droplets as they congeal and steadily make their way down textured veins until, without any hesitation, they descend headlong into the garden below, splashing lightly on the weathered, weed-filled lawn.
A sweet variety of bird calls herald the creeping rise of the sun and with this the hemisphere, the west coast, California, and the Bay Area awakens to answer the call of morning.
In the distance Mount Tamalpais lounges on its side and soaks in the glimmer of encroaching sun rays, becoming the first catcher of radiant light and thus a beacon to those who look forward to the end of a long, tireless night.
What has played out for so long plays out again in the form of a new day powered by the incantations of energy running through the moment—the magical quality of pulsing life and the vibrations of quarks.
Released from the clutch of dreams—the warm, colorful upwellings from the internal oceanic caverns of the mind (born from a conglomeration of the past, the collective conscious, and the unknown)—the surface-level brain switches on and begins to churn with what comes streaming in. The dream world had shown meaning through metaphor and vivid imagery the night before, not unlike the inner-workings of a poem.
Scenes of climbing up brittle rocky cliffs and soaring into cloudless realms only to fall into an encounter with a deceased family member shrouded in black who laughs and dances and then tells you some secret that has now passed from memory, tossed back into the internal abyss that bore it, all flows through the early hours. Standing on the edge and peering down into the darkness, the secret does not come back.
The deep messages of dreams and their seemingly bizarre communications are part of the current too, something to further enhance the dimension of existence. They are interwoven into the now, beautiful articulations of what it means to be alive—to sift through the profound scenery of dreams and sip warm coffee in the morning, feet up and outstretched on the ottoman.
Life presses onward, energy passes through human eyes and human ears, breathing air through a human mouth and entering consciously into the experience that is here.
Twisted and turned, the fundamental heartbeat works the scene and sets the tune.
What brings the droplet to the ground draws me to the window, and what draws me to look out onto the garden below, ends my life someday— a prospect lost in the dense haze of what lies beyond the clarity of the present. It is part of what reality entails, yet so is the morning and that must be a good thing, something to lean against when digesting vastness. The playful hues of dawn continue to brighten and spread, revealing the geometric shapes of the cityscape etched on top of bedrock, landfill, and the greater spinning orb to which we owe our existence.
For now, this vital acknowledgement sustains me, along with everything else—humor included. Fog clearing and an interlaced cobweb sky above, there is nothing left but the vibrancy of energy— the ceaseless tidal wave blanketing the smiles and frowns of morning goers as well as the restless cat searching for prey across the way. A morning meditation and a few poems loom in the adjacent room…
Poetry and Zen mindfulness practice flow together.
If a silent understanding is the true language of Zen, then poetry is the closest articulation of the sentiments, unknowable grandeur, pitfalls and illustrations of the path through the form of human language. Organic and fresh, simple and yet deeply evocative, poetry and Zen practice together, lay the groundwork for an experience that has the potential to reach directly into the heart of what is.
Connection, breathing, action, rest, dreaming, falling into the recognition of energy and then the nod to our place among the fluctuations transforms our relationship with the moment. I think “intimacy” is the right word to describe the sudden fall into the arms of the universe—the droplet letting go of the leaf—that occurs when we come to a sudden realization…
I like to treat reading a poem the same way I approach walking through a wild landscape or descend into the inner currents of my mind; attentive and reverently in awe of the writhing manifestations. The warped roots of soaring redwoods and the stanzas of poems spew from the same eternal source—the one that patiently organizes galaxies and fuels the steady evolution of the human mind.
These natural articulations— the tangible, awe-inspiring physicality of nature and the depth of expression laced within poetry—have the ability to tear our walls down and bring in the light of expansive, unencumbered views. The force is at work, bringing the “million-fueled” fluctuations to the edge of our senses and our thoughts to our consciousness. No one knows from where energy comes from or why it functions as it does, but to attend, to sit with and touch the surge without getting in the way, without blocking it, changes one’s sense of being.
Poetry places human fingerprints on feeling, on encountering moments when the energy is starkly present. There is a kinship between the words and the reader, and we feel history coursing through our interaction with change: some one has been here before, looked out onto the patio and acknowledged something vast and undeniable.
Going into the scenery of the world with practice in mind and poetry in hand, we work to unravel ourselves into the binding fibers of reality. We must attend to the life that is here if we are to sit with the quiet reverberations of non-discriminating energy—to be profoundly and non-judgmentally with it. The foundation of our experience lies in the mind and if the layers between the mind and the reality we move through falls to the sides, then there isn’t anything left to block the flow. To notice and attend seems like the place to begin.
In Rudyard Kipling’s “The Recall,” the author personifies energy and comments on the movement of human life through the eyes of an omniscient creator—the true chef of the scenery, spoon and seasoning in hand, swirling the universal stew. The author steps back and envisions the flow doing as it pleases:
I am the land of their fathers,
In me the virtue stays;
I will bring back my children,
After certain days.
Under their feet in the grasses
My clinging magic runs.
They shall return as strangers,
They shall remain as sons.
Over their heads in the branches
Of their new-bought, ancient trees,
I weave an incantation,
And draw them to my knees.
Scent of smoke in the evening,
Smell of rain in the night,
The hours, the days and the seasons
Order their souls aright;
Till I make plain the meaning
Of all my thousand years
Till I fill their hearts with knowledge,
While I fill their eyes with tears.
The poem speaks to the clarity of stepping back from the immediate foregrounds of our lives to notice the waves of manifestation and take in the currents that inevitably carry us through the unknown. I feel the force of energy and smile at the thought of enjoying my new trinkets beneath the boughs of ancient trees—childlike and innocent underneath the majesty of geological time and the greater tides of evolution that brought this object and I together at the knees of vastness.
The thought of knowledge and tears, the risings and fallings that come with being human and moving alongside other humans, the beasts of the wild and the unknown, reaches down and settles somewhere fresh in my mind. Kipling places the background before me and I step forward, towards him to glean a peaceful understanding of what befalls all men and women. I learn to love the unknown and cherish my time with what is here:
In the end it is, was, and will be all I truly have in life.
If Kipling offers an insight into the ever-present human interaction with vastness, then the next poem focuses on the raw power of the driving force of energy: volcanic eruptions, life, splitting atoms, death, severe thunderstorms, illness and unfathomable realms of space.
Merging with the unknown, the poet invokes the shudder of tectonic movements, something that might feel akin to opening our eyes on a beautiful view or closing them for the last time. Here’s the second half of another one of my favorite poems from the late nineteenth century, “That Nature is a Hercaclitean Fire and the Comforts of the Resurrection” by Gerard Manley Hopkins:
Footfretted in it. Million-fuelèd, | nature’s bonfire burns on.
But quench her bonniest, dearest | to her, her clearest-selvèd spark
Man, how fast his firedint, | his mark on mind, is gone!
Both are in an unfathomable, all is in an enormous dark
Drowned. O pity and indig | nation! Manshape, that shone
Sheer off, disseveral, a star, | death blots black out; nor mark
Is any of him at all so stark
But vastness blurs and time | beats level. Enough! the Resurrection,
A heart’s-clarion! Away grief’s gasping, | joyless days, dejection.
Across my foundering deck shone
A beacon, an eternal beam. | Flesh fade, and mortal trash
Fall to the residuary worm; | world’s wildfire, leave but ash:
In a flash, at a trumpet crash,
I am all at once what Christ is, | since he was what I am, and
This Jack, joke, poor potsherd, | patch, matchwood, immortal diamond,
Is immortal diamond.
Fascinating and luscious, oozing and percolating, Gerard Manley Hopkin’s piece draws on the ire of living in a seemingly vast fire pit, one in which the finality of realization is a oneness with the entirety of the universe before our own flame is extinguished and digested into the porous ground—the one that sucks in the droplet and recycles our bodies to nourish the belly of trees. The language is rough-edged and tough, difficult to speak aloud, as if he’s conveying the grandeur of time, energy, fire and space through making it difficult for us now to utter our thoughts to those who might listen.
The immortality of energy, “immortal diamond is immortal diamond,” sits on the porch with me and trumpets the return of the first fall leaves to the ground this evening. The slow, methodical march of days and seasons capped by moments of ferocity, bring my hands to my face and push up thermal updrafts that support the cawing gulls above.
The great flow of life cannot be fully comprehended nor can it be adequately described, so we are left to grope and feel, touching upon instances of clarity and sitting with stanzas of human expression after a deep meditation—exact and to the point, entirely perfect as it is.
Editor: Lynn Hasselberger