I wake up to a new world. The standing Buddha in the yard is wearing a large conical white hat and is surrounded by a foot of virgin snow. The solar lights on the deck are miniature mountains.
And even indoors⎼ near my bed, a painting on the wall I’ve looked at almost every day for ten years named “Golden Woods,” by the English artist Jo Barry ⎼ suddenly, the painted light flows through the artwork. It is absorbed by dark trees and adds so much life to the yellow, orange, and gold leaves and flowers they pop out and become so distinct that, for the first time, vast depths can be seen behind them. Unrevealed details.
And Linda, a wife, partner, and best friend⎼ is standing by the dresser, the universe seen and loved in her eyes. What a beautiful morning.
Already it’s different outside. The light has changed, dimmed. Near the Buddha, under the bird feeder, Cardinals, Chickadees, Blue Jays, a Mourning Dove⎼ is that a Nuthatch?
Writing, like a good conversation, can be one of life’s greatest gifts. Yet it can be so tenuous. It is best when words just emerge almost by themselves. When I started writing this morning, my mind was fresh from a good night’s sleep. There was clearly something pushing to be noticed and written, but I didn’t know what it was. The only thing clear was the fresh snow, the light in the painting, and that naming emerges from the nameless. Writing can be like that, when we trust the process. We pick up a pen and don’t know if we will get what we aim at or what, if we let it, we’ll say.
Other times, it’s amazing that we can speak at all or write about anything. One minute, we feel we are in the grip of a great revelation, only to find, on the very next day or next moment, a contrary revelation. We speak, thinking we know what we’re talking about, but so much lives in each word, each perception, that all we can ever describe is one moment’s cupful. The rest spills out or jumps from the cup as if our speaking or looking gives it feet.
We can worry so much about saying the wrong thing or how we will sound that our voice becomes foreign to us, as if spoken at a great distance, like an echo. And this echo can be painful and isolating, made worse when we think only we personally carry such burdens or there is something missing in us because we do so. If only we could step right through this distance.
When we study ourselves closely, mindfully, study our actual sensations and feelings, we can eliminate the seeming separation between us and everything. If we write or speak with whatever honesty we can realize only now, at this one particular moment ⎼ if when the world is too painful to even look at, we recognize and breathe that in, and are kind to ourselves, we learn so much. The world gets a little brighter. Thoughts and feelings become as apparent as the rocks and trees.
I wrote a book, published in 2016, called Compassionate Critical Thinking: How Mindfulness, Creativity, Empathy and Socratic Questioning Can Transform Education. In it, I talk about critical thinking as a process. And to do it well, we must, after filling our mind with relevant examined details and perspectives, give ourselves a break, take a breath, sleep on it, take a walk, meditate. But there is more to this than I realized before. When we let the parts settle in our mind and heart, eventually we get quiet enough to feel and see the whole.
And when we see the whole⎼ or to see the whole⎼ it’s not just the parts and details that are transformed. We just look. A sort of love arises. Obstructions disappear. We stop trying to pin ourselves down with words and instead use them to ride the wind. Poet and translator David Hinton, in his book China Root: Taoism, Ch’an, and Original Zen, says it’s no longer us looking at it, but the universe seeing and speaking itself.
Outside, there are apple and cherry trees, ash and oak, grey-brown and covered in white. Yet uphill, behind them all, huge green pine. A totally different sort of forest. It surprises me. Seeing it, I feel something pressing against my belly. This forest is so big and dark inside, who knows what mysteries are being shaped there?
It’s such a relief to feel safe, able to sit and write⎼ to feel present, here and now, to feel the weight of the past year or four years finally lifting, to feel a new world is possible. A song comes to mind, from West Side Story, the first stage performance I ever saw: “We’ll find a new way of living, we’ll find a way of forgiving…”
Maybe overly romantic, but it seems appropriate somehow.
This post is republished on Medium.
Photo credit: Shutterstock