15 November 2012

The Minority Opinion

Currently we're reading David Abram's Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology in the Environmental Philosophy class.  This is my first pass through his work, and I have to say, I am taken with his ability consistently to get to the heart of things.

At one juncture he describes
the discovery that I was palpably immersed in a field of unfoldings so much wider than myself and my intentions.  It was not just the resonant metaphors offered by stones and grasses and muscled creatures, but also the rightness, somehow, of recognizing mind as a broad landscape within which I was wandering, a deep field with its near aspects and its distances, its moods shifting like the weather. (122)
Further he continues:
[M]y encounters with other styles of sentience were loosening the conception of my own mind as a closed zone of reflection….  As though the leap and vanish of a deer into the forest or these other movements of shadows and grass and rain were not merely metaphors but part of the very constitution of the mind, of its real structure and architecture. (123)
Of course, this is no news to anyone hanging around Zen for any length of time.  "The oak tree," "the storehouse, the gate," and "three pounds of flax" are the gestures Zenfolk have made in the very same direction.  "So many moments of mind," as Dōgen so aptly put it, referring to walls, stones, and tiles.

I get it to some degree.  I know others get it, too, most no doubt better than I.  But what to do with a classroom of students who aren't at all convinced there's even an "it" to get here?  How do I begin, cold, to bring someone to see what Abram and Joshu and Tozen and countless other men and women have seen?  How can I speak of this, knowing that my words are being filtered through an upbringing and schooling in dualisms of every possible kind?

And the answer is "I can't."  Not in the least.  Because what it takes to see into it is a lot of time and stillness and patience and awareness.  Some find it in the zendo; some find it in the fields and trees and barren landscapes and mountains and shores.  Wherever one finds it, the strategy is the same: put the ego in park and shut off the engine.  Let whatever comes up and whatever is there kill you.  And not just once, but again and again.

It's the work of a lifetime, this inexhaustible field of practice, and there's just no room for that in a 3 credit semester course.  And so it is, and will remain, the treasure of only a few.

1 comment:

  1. And yet, there is something unspeakably appealing about being in the presence of someone who totally gets that there is an "it" there to get.

    Sure, you aren't bringing them all the way there in a 3 credit course. You know all too well that they can't get there that way anyway. Trust me, though, you have a profound influence just by being yourself and being as fully present with them as possible. And I suspect that means (to borrow and rearrange your words) putting the ego in park, shutting off the engine and being fully present with their filters and their unconvinced minds.

    Seriously, some 18 years after I first sat in one of your classes, my mind returns over and over again to an email you sent me when I was freaking out about some paper. The entire content of the message you sent was: "Breathe. Smile. It'll be OK." At the time that made me so crazy. And yet... it was also the first time my mind entertained the possibility of that type of response.

    I'm still turning that little pebble around in my shoe all these years later. I think I'm closer to getting "it" than I ever have been before. I'm still not there. I don't know if I ever will be. But I know that an important first step on that journey happened in a classroom with you when I started learning all that I had not even know existed up until that point.

    Excellent blog.