Thursday, December 1, 2011
Tranquil Abiding / Centering
Copyright Lance Kinseth, Round Full / Enman, 48"x48, 2011
When water becomes stone
And the atmosphere bell-crisp,
Coming in from the cold
Opens the landscapes of memory and deep imagination.
Yule approaches (Winter Solstice):
The dark yields to the light
And yet the deepest part of winter yet to begin.
The bleakness hides a fire:
The vast sweep of serenity in the physical stillness
And in the embers of sleepy seeds and mammals
And in subtle details:
In the wonder of bare, matchstick legs of birds in such cold
And in the tiny leather caps of spring buds on every bush.
IN WINTER, in the Northern Hemisphere, some might perceive a dead, skeletal landscape. And yet, the barren might be positively equated with an “original ground,” a landscape in which we are dazzled less by the fleeting biotic evanescence of summer. In this original ground, we might be carried a little deeper. In a landscape that appears reduced to the skeletal, everything is still deeply present. There is an opportunity in not being distracted by diverse expressions. Zen adept Ikkyu lived in Japan at a time of famine, disease, riots and wars, seeing, quite regularly, a landscape of corpses. In experiencing the desolation and a sense of “life as fleeting,” Ikkyu admonishes us that appearances are delusive. In Giakotsu (“Skeletons,” 1457 AD),he writes in the voice of a skeleton in a temple graveyard,
A cherry tree
And there are no flowers,
But the spring breeze
Brings forth myriad blossoms!
In John Stevens, Three Zen Masters: Ikkyu, Hakuin, Ryokan. Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1993, p.45
In December in the Northern Hemisphere, the physical Earth has it time of glory. Snow and ice trigger, in counterpoint, humane fire and shelter. We might go into a landscape of crows that go easily into the stubble and find gems free for the taking. Perhaps this canny ability to find resources in desolation is a strong part of the reason that arctic cultures praise the highly evolved family of Corvidae, while in the West, crows and ravens and magpies are disprized. The crow is mythologized by indigenous Northwest Pacific coastal societies as the “Crow Father”—the creator-spirit that produced dry land by beating its wings—or as “The One Who Brings Light.” Similarly, the raven might be referenced as the “Great Inventor” or as “The One Whose Voice Is To Be Obeyed” or as the “Real Chief.”
In the cold, there is time for rich fire of contemplation, for the mind, for the art of Raja yoga—“royal yoga”—at least at a preparatory level of meditation/mind-spirit work: “tranquil abiding.”
In “tranquil abiding,” there is the natural tendency to try to go inside an interiority to “strengthen self” against “superficial” / “false” everyday “distractions,” as if we really could subsume life and rise above it. However, the real task of Raja yoga and initial tranquil abiding is one of emptying the center so that the miracle that is life in all of its expressions [that we might discriminate into “good” and “bad”] can enter and optimize us. In Opening The Moral Eye, M. C. Richards wrote, “Centering is the discipline of bringing in rather than leaving out.”
In body-mind practices and art and life in general, the “center” is neither a physical point nor an interior place in oneself. More than a place, Centering is gerund—a noun/verb—a process of balancing real events in life as it is, instead of being swayed this way and then that way, rather than making an “inside” and an “outside.” Centering is an act of bringing elements that might seem to be at opposite ends of a continuum into balance and harmony: Speech and silence, the everyday and the cosmos, the natural and the artificial.
Centering is a process of developing an interior silence or calmness for clarity and for peace. It is a process of letting go, with the possibility that by deeply calming and letting go, an interior luminescence might shine outward.
If there is a sense of “center” in the body-mind-spirit, it is perhaps somewhat effusive rather than specific. It is likely that which is referenced in the Chinese term, xin [心], which might be translated as “heart-mind.” “Heart-mind” is a balancing of sorts. And it is a holistic essence that even extends beyond the body, as might be captured in the metaphor of the seventh chakra, Sahasrara, where there is a sense of unity with the cosmos. A person expressing the attribute xin is felt to be a “good person,” which is to say, simply, that the person is considerate of others, but more than this, that his or her actions are likely to be deeply balanced and luminescent.
In winter, in the Northern Hemisphere, when nothingness seems to prevail over abundance, we are offered this metaphor of emptying, opening, and receiving that which the crows know well—an overlooked abundance that is always present in every season.
In the quiet of restorative practice, we are offered a stillness that might bring us to a center that is not an interior island, but rather, is a process of magical arrival and of the flow of energy. Each incoming breath is the flow of the Earth, like an incoming wave in the ocean that is, ultimately, the expression of the ocean itself. Such a perception can seem esoteric or even intellectual at first, and then, by returns, might be understood to be the real, unthinking work of the world, like a snowflake that expressed a whole season, nothing exotic or special, really—just the wondrous way that the world, self, star, cold, and dark simply is.