Ocean Wave (written 2002)
I have a tattered photocopy on my office door of a woodblock print from a famous series of Mt. Fuji by the 19th century Japanese artist, Hokasai. The picture has a curling ocean wave in the foreground. The spray from the wave and a flock of passing birds meld one into another. Mt. Fuji itself is small and comparatively insignificant in this picture.
I like this picture for the range of associations and symbols it brings to mind. For the reminder it presents in such a beautiful form. The wave is a common Buddhist explanation of the nature of the self. Each of us but a wave on the ocean of being, rising out of a single ground of being, moving along for awhile, and then bowing down again to join the water of which it is made. The stuff of each wave is both unique and not. What is the wave but the water? The wave is not something solid and substantial and separate. It is one with everything. The artist has rendered the spray of the waves and the passing birds in such a way that the division is not as clear as the unity. Flight, not uncommonly, is associated with freedom. And here the stuff of the wave itself and the freedom of flight are one and the same. To me this is a reminder that nothing of individual freedom is lost in understanding the unity of all. Instead, freedom is gained in this realization.
The solid bulk of Mt. Fuji comes closer to the western concept of the separate self, the stolid individual. Yet this enduring mountain is dwarfed by the powerful kinetic wave image. Yes, the illusion of self as separate is strong. And it has its place in the way the world works. Yet it is the ocean one sees in this picture, a reminder of what is seen during careful observation of experience and thought, during mindfulness and meditation. Not a solid Mt. Fuji self, but the flux of thought and senses arising and falling so that even in this body I am reborn with each breath.
The ocean print on my study door is one of those physical reminders of mindfulness that I have chosen to keep around me. I see following the Buddhist path as a way of living, not a belief system. The emphasis is on practice, on the personal experience of the clarity and truth that mindfulness and meditation bring. Yet I do not live in a Sangha community, or a monastery. My days are not centered on rituals designed to support this mindfulness…as the days of a hermit, a monk or even a lay teacher at a meditation centre might be. I am a middle class, middle-aged woman following the Buddha’s Middle Way. I have children to get off to school and to take to various practices and activities. I have shopping and errands to do, cooking and laundry and cleaning. And because I work at home as well, I have students to respond to and to contact, marking piling up, contracts to be honored. Yet, when I slow down to live my days as mindfully as possible, I find the sacred in everything and that happiness is here now…not waiting for the weekend or next year’s vacation.
But because I choose to strive to live mindfully in the context of my life as it is now, without forsaking all this for something other, I have discovered the helpfulness of reminders. Thus the ocean print. And the paper mandalas taped to my computer and my wall, the tiny porcelain dish that sits at my left hand holding tinier stones, shells, even a cherry pit, brought home from retreats. In my kitchen there is a small singing bowl, or mindfulness bell. And I have explained this to the family such that sometimes I am awakened when I become too harried because my youngest son has invited this bell to ring. These and other items scattered around my home serve as visual reminders of my commitment to this path. This parallels the way the ring on my left hand stands for the commitment to my marriage and a locket containing photos of my sons, worn when I am away from them, keeps them near my heart outwardly, as they always are inwardly.
The middle way to me means to stay in the world I know but to change the way I live in this world, the way I am in this world. Just a wave changing shape, moving through.