Sunday, July 3, 2011
Copyright Lance Kinseth, Jeff Harris Design, 2011
IN EVERYDAY LIFE, when all seems right and in a “groove” of sorts, we might believe ourselves to be in a state of harmony. But in everyday life, most moments do not seem to fall into place in such a harmonious way, making the experience of “harmony” elusive, and once lived, quickly lost. And when life takes a hard turn with the death of a loved one or in the face of a life-threatening illness, life can seem to have, unquestionably, become disharmonious.
There is another sense of harmony that endures, even when life seems far from calmness and in balance. There is a harmony to be found in the storm. Life in harmony is a roller-coaster ride vs. stasis, balancing and then rebalancing. If we are fortunate enough to seem to “win the battle” over disease or some loss and recover some sense of harmony, it is more of the upswing of the roller coaster, and the downfall lies somewhere ahead, and likely not that far ahead.
Authentic harmony may be present even when it seems like disharmony. Authentic harmony is very yin-yang, involving both halves of the circle. The wind-battered tree is beautiful and “photogenic” because of its struggle. Chan master Wansong Xingxiu writes, “The cold pine’s sick branches are even more outstanding for their sickness.” [“Commentary for Case 94: Dongshan is un-well,” Book Of Serenity, Thomas Cleary (trans.) Hudson, NY: Lindisfarne Press, 1990, p. 406]
Trauma offers insight-provoking information and concrete “initiation” that is crucial to thriving. In disease and disorder and disarray, a question such as “What is offered by trauma?,” opens a gateway that may change perceptions of dilemmas. Efforts to excise disorder may tend to keep the problem more problematically alive in our thinking both as something that we can’t rid ourselves of and, once gone, held as a reminder to fend off future problems and “survive.” However, efforts to look at the “limit” rather than aspire to excise it may open a negative barrier to reveal an opportunity. Chan master Yun Men said, in responding to a question about “distinctions between days,” responded, “Every day is a good day.” [Thomas Cleary & J. C. Cleary, “ Sixth Case: Yun Men’s Every Day is a Good Day,” The Blue Cliff Record, Boston: Shambhala, 1992, p. 37]
Siddartha Gautama suggested that perhaps the best thing that we have is our knowledge that when breathing in and out we become aware that we are breathing in and out, and to enjoy each breath, and perhaps to smile to it. [the Anapanasati Sutra, “the Mindfulness Sutra,” in which “Anapana = “breath” and sati = “mindfulness,” is cited in Thich Nhat Hanh, The Miracle Of Mindfulness, Boston: Beacon Press, 1976 (revised edition), p. 7].
Myriad volumes, beyond anyone’s capacity to read, have been written on that which the Buddha was trying to convey. But in the legends of the Buddha’s dying, he is reported to have said that he had nothing to teach, that the pathway was in each of us, and available to open and optimize. A mythic recount of his words states, All things pass away. Strive for your own liberation and diligence.
We have come to believe that we want more and that we need more. When our lives seem perfect, when we seem to have everything, there is still something missing. When we face a crisis, it seems obvious that something has either been stolen, or has strayed, or is more deeply lost. And yet, all of these changes, either “good” or “bad” are more like yin-yang faces of a coin, or like facets on one diamond. Each aspect offers a gateway to the whole picture.
Beyond the human, in the non-human realm of biota and even physical events, myriad, exquisite lives are lost every moment, and quadrillions of snowflakes melt, and a beautiful architecture of waves in every lake and every seacoast collapses. Even this dissolution is remarkably beautiful and wondrous. That which is truly astonishing, is our ability to dismiss this process that is operant in us and in everything that we experience. Everything around us, especially those events that we overlook and even disprize, is teaching us something very important if we will simply listen and awaken. This listening and awakening is the direct experience of harmony. There is, finally, no temple to construct, nothing solid enough for even dust to finally settle upon. There is just this harmonious flow, like wind and water and our own breath.
Body-mind practices offer this opportunity to access harmony in each moment by following longstanding pathways that have devised “special ingredients.” Their special “ingredients”/components may involve such things as quietness or softness that allow us to encounter a sense of harmony that is there on a good day of practice as well as one that doesn’t measure up to expectations. Sometimes in a body-mind practice, some physical pose or movement that was uncomfortable may suddenly become not only comfortable, but also a favorite.