After a good rainstorm, it’s hard not to notice a pungent freshness oozing from green blades of grass or the sound of newly fallen runoff pouring down a nearby ravine.
Looking up, the clarity of the sky appears immaculate and sharp, infinite and deep. Yesterday’s dust has been blown away with the last of the cold raindrops, leaving us with a new perspective—an opportunity to see beyond what had once held us in a kind of self-imposed, grainy cocoon.
Storms can be evocative phenomena because they fall in step with what’s rough and cold in our inner regions as well. Our inner storms can push us into a metaphorical hut while we hunker down and wait out the thunder and sleet, until the hut becomes a new world for us to not only inhabit, but then to arduously maintain. In the inner regions, where there’s no logic or reason capable of confining the wilderness, storms don’t just blow in from the jet stream, they remain part of the territory, billowing up and unleashing themselves when conditions are ripe.
What might it be like to embrace storms, to notice the bulbous cumulonimbus clouds and the soothing, primordial sound of rain, even if it’s uncomfortable and against the urge of our mind to leap into something small and confined? This counterintuitive, compassionate move might change our lives.
This human mind is very interesting. It likes to add things up, build comforting worlds to inhabit and believe in, fall prey to addictive behavior patterns, and attract things that might lead to more of the same—more of what’s comfortable. Oddly enough, these mind-made realities often revolve around smallness: judgment, fears, old injuries and quick reactions.
One of Buddha’s most evocative questions was, “are you ready for this happiness?”—which implies, are we ready to drop everything, including our cherished beliefs, and just be here, free? In a strange way we might find that the mind has a tendency to steadfastly hold onto the past in a way that binds us to narrowness. It likes the hut and even when you try to leave it time and time again, it continues to twist your attempts toward freedom back into the doorway of the hut. And that of course, is perfectly fine.
The great lesson of mindfulness, of being, is noticing and allowing.
We don’t break the mind through fighting it, we just sit with it and watch it run around. Through presence, the boundaries between the hut and the outer wilderness disappear. This is freedom. Even if we experience pure being for one second, it’s enough room for the possibility of a transformation.
The vastness of compassion runs something like this: through being open and present, compassion emerges naturally from the unknown depths into our daily experience. There are no morals, no commandments, and certainly, no obsession with adultery when we enter the now—although there could be a little humor (put on that Medieval chain chastity belt and throw away the key sweetheart! I’ll be back in six years!).
The person who didn’t call you the other day and the man who yelled at you in traffic a moment ago aren’t here in this moment. All that remains is the vastness of the now—a chance to sit and be, a chance to allow what is innate to flow from your heart. Again, Buddha’s words ring out, “Are you ready for this happiness?”
The Japanese Zen poet, Ikkyu wrote:
“I almost lost my mind
Between studying and severe
But life’s most valuable thing really
Is the fisherman’s songs.
Along the Hsiao River,
There’s sunset and rain,
Clouds and moon
Excellence beyond words
Singing night after night.”
The poem is so simple and yet it paints a beautiful picture that can be placed against the texture of our lives now. We can run in circles inside the confines of our metaphorical hut and honk in traffic, but if we’re quiet enough and present enough, we might catch the distant hum of the fisherman’s song: wind in the trees, a soft lighting in the crisp December air… a continuous, unexhausted stream of “excellence beyond words singing night after night” that happens to swirl around us moment after moment.
What might it be like to wear Ikkyu’s eyes and hear with Ikkyu’s ears? And what might it be like to enter into the vastness of Ikkyu’s mind—the same one sitting in our own skull? We might feel like we’re taking some insanely powerful drug where the world is vibrant and alive beyond description; where it’s uninhibited by the smallness of our thoughts. And then the real change could take place: the original sense of “ecstatic-ness” might become ordinary and humbling, providing us with the nourishment we need to be happy, reverent, wise, and content.
Ed: Lynn Hasselberger