Zen & the Arts - Field Notes

Freely I watch the tracks of the flying birds



The theme of this issue is a line from an ancient Chinese poet. The line is in our koan curriculum, which means that we meditate with it and see what it offers us, and where it takes us.

It appears in The Blue Cliff Record as a comment on this koan:

Yunmen said, “I’m not asking you about before the full moon. Come and say a word or two about after the full moon.”

He responded to his own request, “Every day is a good day.”

Through thousands of years, watching the tracks of the flying birds has been a meditation. When I watch birds nothing needs to be mended, there is nowhere I need to go to. We are here, there is just sky and birds. We become the host of whatever appears. This seems to be respectful of life.

It’s enough just to see, to make room in the moment. I myself have become a little diary entry for the birds: Flew by the man meditating in the garden, dodged the hawk, that sort of thing. Each bird is a large moment, in which the world looks up and I look back without demanding anything, just meeting. An unreasonable joy rises at each meeting.

Pelicans ride waves in the air, and splash their wings to herd fish, a large crane angles between masts in the harbor. A raven comes over, close, closer—just inspecting and saying hello, one of her tail feathers is at an odd angle. The owl flies silently, silently, the big awkward wings held straight out in the twilight. Hummingbirds chase each other, hurtling straight up like Blue Angels, jeweled stunt flyers, called in Mayan, ‘ts’unu’um,’ the sound they make opening and closing the air. Yellow breasted finches tumble together through the golden leaves as if they are one mind, a mind that is always stretching and reshaping itself.


Tracing the flight of Yellow Storks – with permission from photographer Xavi Bou

Also I feel the wings rise and fall and I rise and fall with them. Then I feel the birds fly though me. Then I change places with them, and I too fly. Space-time expands and the finches fly through me as well as through the apricot tree.

When I make room In the moment anything can enter and become complete. A lovingly polished big rig from the Central Valley drives though me. There is mayhem and sorrow and they go through me, too. In the vast engine of life, I have always been here. I too am a hummingbird.

In Thousand Oaks there was a mass shooting in a bar and then almost immediately the wild fire came. The point of Thousand Oaks is that it’s safe, nothing is ever supposed to happen. So I checked on one of my friends there and she said she had just given a talk at the University of California and she was doing pretty well, considering.

I really I am in good spirits. I do feel a real reserve, I don’t mean a stepback reserve, it’s more a reservoir from…all this wandering in the dark with the koans, the No koan and the dog, and the Buddha’s hands and the killing heat and cold.

What I think about meditation isn’t so important. The thing about meditating is that it’s indistinguishable from mere being. What I think about anything isn’t so important.

Everyone is waiting for the world to go back to normal which is why people look at election polls and stats and scan the news several times a day.

I too was hoping for a kinder, less violent culture, and that everyone would understand that when birds fly, they fly through our hearts. But it will have to be enough for us to understand that madness, difficulty, hope, and sorrow hurtle through our own hearts and fly around like birds.

The world lacks interest in my hopes and fears. The old idea of the Bodhisattva depends on not objecting to this lack of interest. The Bodhisattva accompanies people, in full knowledge that there is nothing solid for any of us to stand on. Instead we see a smile in the street, the brown, blades of autumn grass, a sick child laughing. Every day in the smallest most disregarded thing, it appears—the luminosity of great wings.

We’re all watching the tracks of the flying birds, adjusting our feathers to the downdrafts.


One Comment

  1. Dear writers,

    Please read: ‘The judgment of the birds’ by Loren Eiseley (p.103, Collected Essays on Evolution, Nature and the Cosmos, vol I.
    the Library of America, ISBN 978 1 59833-506-8. All his essays are beautifully written with a deep love and concern for nature, just as yours.

    Thank you!
    Kind regards, Andrea Basedow, Utrecht, Netherlands


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