Last weekend, I got an email from a good friend about starting contemplative practice. (If you’re not familiar with the word contemplative, it’s the word that Christian friars, abbots, monks, nuns, and hermits have used throughout the centuries for meditation as communion with God.) He expressed the universal fears that almost everyone has about beginning serious inner spiritual work. (Am I ready? Nah, probably not. Right?)
My response was a slightly more tactful wording of "stop kidding yourself and just do it." After I sent it, I realized: there I go again, sounding like the "holy spiritual adventurer" when I’m just an ordinary person, with all the same weaknesses as everyone else. Actually, I’ve done very little practice in the last several weeks myself, and I know full well, first hand, how desperately the ego wants to avoid the concentrated ray of meditation. (The flip side is that I also know how incredibly refreshing my spirit finds it.) I’ve done just enough spiritual work to recognize the ego—whether it’s crying out in a friend’s email or if it’s in my response to a friend.
A blog like this is simply dangerous, and I’m probably an idiot for starting it. I’m not awakened. This blog is not about being awake, but awakening, with all its messiness.
There’s a risk that when I share my spiritual experiences and insights, it will sound like: "Wow! the Frimster’s such a holy guy!" Everything else will sound like I’m a typical single gay American nerd, which is exactly right. That’s Jedi life in the real world.
Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter …and Spring is the title of an enthralling movie I saw last night at the Naro. It’s a beautiful Korean movie about an old monk and a young monk in a small Buddhist monastery, and it’s almost as stunning as that other Korean movie about an old monk and a young monk in a small Buddhist monastery, 1989’s gorgeous Why has Bodhi-dharma Left for the East? The setting is magnificent and even surreal?the entire film is shot on a floating monastery in the middle of a lake and the surrounding hills. It’s a poetic exploration of the cycles of life and seasons, following one person’s life from boyhood to maturity. In Spring, he’s a child monk being raised by an old monk in the monastery, learning valuable lessons in compassion. In Summer, he’s a youth who ultimately leaves the monastery when he discovers the pleasures of love and sex, and in Fall, he returns to the monastery briefly as a young adult under surprising circumstances. In Winter, he returns to the monastery to stay, and in Spring, begins to raise a child at the monastery himself.
Spring has a much more substantial story than Bodhi-dharma. But it is not a Western story, and there are a few scenes which are baffling and even disturbing. Its vision of life is not at all sugar-coated…there is life and death, happiness and tragedy; but it is hauntingly beautiful and profoundly moving.
If you get a chance, see it. You won’t be disappointed.
I’m getting to like blogging. I’ve decided to make the new version of the site blog-driven. It will give me a chance to post thoughts much more quickly and easily. For instance, I can share quick thoughts about a movie, without having to spend a hour or two crafting and publishing a review, unless it’s really calling me to.
I’m going to move my thoughts on Web design into a separate blog; I’ll probably keep movie stuff in this blog, but you never know. And I’m thinking about a third blog on this site, to be announced.
Friday night, I was walking after it had just stopped raining in Norfolk. The air was fresh and clear, and the sun had nearly set. Suddenly a wonderful, full-arc rainbow appeared in the eastern sky. I stopped and stood on the sidewalk, admiring it for several minutes.
Then BAM! A single bolt of lightning split the sky. A car was coming out of the parking lot where I was, and a lady inside rolled down her window and gestured for me to come over. She warned me not to get struck by lightning while looking at the rainbow. I felt like shaking my head in disbelief… One (and only one!) lightning flash, in a city of hundreds of thousands, surrounded by taller buildings all around—really, my chances were pretty good! I also felt a touch of sadness that so many people are so needlessly frightened by things. We all could do with more rainbow-gazing and less worrying about lightning. But I was also touched that she cared enough to pass a friendly warning on to me, a complete stranger.
So I smiled and nodded, and turned back to the fading rainbow as the car drove off. And as the sun set and the rainbow dissolved, I thought, if you’ve got to go, there are far worse ways than by watching a rainbow.
On Monday night, I took a walk. Or, more accurately, I thought I was going to take a walk, but it was more like the walk took me. As soon as I stepped out of my apartment, I was almost overwhelmed by the beauty of—everything.
Fireflies—whether in the distance or up close, were like meteors blazing in my heart. I was filled with wonder at the blossoms on the trees, the beauty of the lights shining in houses, the ambient light of the night itself. And I was able to just shut my mind up pretty much, and just BE there.
I found myself led to a playground, and I climbed on top of the monkeybars and sat and meditated… it was one of my best sits in ages. MyZen teacher» has been instructing me in shikantaza—”just sitting” meditation, which I’ve always found very difficult. It wasn’t difficult Monday night, though! Sure, thoughts came and went, but I just stopped caring, and melted into sacred Presence. No strain or stress of “trying” to meditate. And peace just opened up.
It seemed to me not just possible, but screamingly obvious that the world is just the skin of God, like a movie screen holding back just enough divine light to show us the entertaining/painful images, sensations, thoughts we call life. It was obvious to me that there is no true separation, but there is One only.
During one summer in the late 80s, I had experiences like this rather frequently. (My poem Across a World is about a night like that.) I wonder what keeps us from seeing it, experiencing it more often. (And I suspect that a great many people don’t have these insights at all.)
I’d like to hear from you. Send me your comments about your experiences, or your thoughts about this.