Oracle (written 2010)
No specific question as I went to my interview with the monk today, so I asked only for further guidance on my practice path. It was like speaking to an oracle, a shadowed figure on his bench with a bank of windows behind him. The bright light I looked into made his face impossible to see and I imagined that same light washing over me, facing him, wrinkled, sagging and age-spotted, rumpled in my sleeping and dish-washing clothes. I laughed and shared this fancy, both of our “roles”, both “I's” dissolving as we spoke.
My concern so often is not to be trapped in the discursive, academic and analytic mind that is habitual for me. My teacher's suggestions were clear, precise and practical. His early training was in music and he spoke of the deep pleasure of simple arrangements, of scales. Suggested some composers. And so, gently assisted me in finding space and timelessness in my life, beyond the retreats and monastery visits. Actions and supports in changing directions and my habits of being: Gregorian chants, Japanese haiku, books without words but of black and white photos or eastern block prints and simple line drawings or spare paintings. Coming to appreciate space and emptiness.
He told me of a teacher who advised Western monks to give up reading for five years. I'm sure my jaw dropped. I know my heart hammered. Not this. Not to give up this. And ironically now I record his advice in this self-indulgent and verbose journal. But, baby steps.
He came back to the middle way...just sufficient, just enough. Enough to read, enough to eat...find that and seek no more. OK.
I bow thanks and return to my cushion in the sala for the next hour. I watch words and plans and ideas come and go. I recall “flux” and “emptiness” and I find at last a gentle place where this body breathes and “I” stops its chatter awhile.
Later, on a woods walk, I recall a Dhamma friend's metaphor for the soup of the mind. Experiment with leaving certain ingredients out, he suggested: Like ego? Like expectation? Like planning? So now I think of my interview again, but this time as the companion to this instruction. Experiment with adding certain things: Like space? Like emptiness? Like simplicity? What will these new spices do to an old recipe?