Zen & the Arts - Field Notes

What stands in the way becomes the way.
— Marcus Aurelius

A mourning dove, spying trees and sky in a window’s reflection, meets itself in the glass. Afterwards, the signature of that encounter, rebounding as light, impacts my observing eye in a slow motion registration of the event. The closer I look—homing in on the meticulous narrative catastrophe of slewed beak, depressed eye cavity, and the ever-finer filigree of feather and after-feather in the explicitly sequenced shock of impact—the slower that conceptual collision, and the less I know what I am seeing. Through a gate shaped like a bird, I enter a landscape of light, the light opens to beauty, the beauty opens to surprise, the surprise opens to freedom. What just happened here?

The supernova remnants captured in this telescopic image also record a moment of impact, in this case a star with itself, as it exhausts its nuclear fueled light and free-falls inward—implodes in gravitational collapse—then unfolds mightily, leaving a few feathered traces…and another gate shaped like a bird.

In the end, the end of a star introduces the matter, literally, of new life: all but one of Earth’s elements burst from the heart of a star. About 93% of the mass in our earthly bodies is stardust. With hardly any cheating, we might wish on ourselves. Or a dove. Or the junkie who stood behind me at the thrift store yesterday, talking to an electric drill.

Dove, star, junkie, me…each one meets a kind of limit and rebounds into the light of seeing and being seen. That light itself rebounds into more light, an opening-light, the light of what, of oh yes, of this too—of how as well as what we see, both inside and out. Seeing by being seen, knowing by not-knowing, what seemed to close the way before us—doubt, fear, separation, confusion—may open, with attention, into freedom.

Jiashan asked a pilgrim, “Where have you come from?”
“From Dongshan’s,” replied the pilgrim.
“What does Dongshan teach his students?”
“He usually teaches in three ways.”
“What are they?”
“The dark way, the bird path, and the open hand.”


Author’s Note: The dove, it’s worth noting, lived.

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