It has been a long journey… and yet the paradox remains that its unfolding was only ever in this very moment. In this very moment, all that has gone before remains within the now, just as the first strokes of the artist’s paintbrush are ever present on the finished canvas we see before us.
Yet still the paradox invites us to explore the journey that has been undertaken. Like the expansion of the universe with the in-breath, humanity has travelled far from the source that birthed us. We have now entered the time for the out-breath, a time to melt the armour and tensions within as we let go and return to the source.
Working at the Bellingen market last month I suddenly had an image of the last of these zen ox-herding pictures and felt how powerful it was to be returning to the marketplace at this time in the world…
There are many books written on the alchemical journey. From these 10 ox-herding pictures to the tarot’s fool that circles into the world dancer, we are returning to the same place, but when we arrive we will know this place for the first time, see this place for the first time, with new eyes. For the innocence that we began the journey is deepening into wisdom…
To recognise the extent of the imbalance and feel the longing to return to simpler and more harmonious times is the beginning of the journey home. My grandmother recently gave me some of her old linen, apologising profusely all the while at its age. ‘Made in Australia’ states the label on one set of bed linen, perhaps 30 years old, yet still carrying more life than my ‘new’ sheets made in China just a year ago. The quality of the old linen I feel between under my fingertips touches deep sadness within. ‘What have we done?’
It is I who wish fervently to beg her forgiveness on behalf of the generations that have followed her, who have sold off quality for quantity, products made in earth-time for those made in ‘no-time’, solutions today at the expense of problems tomorrow. And yet, as I, she too is a strand, an innocent and naive strand perhaps, but nevertheless a strand within the web of all we have created.
“This we know: the earth does not belong to the people, the people belong to the earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. We did not weave the web of life, we are merely the strands within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.”2
The impetus to wake up is tangible, if only we would feel it. And in the feeling we will realise how we long for it, with all of our being. If we would just shut our eyes for a moment and look within, we would begin to see more clearly than we do with our open eyes.
Innocence is giving birth to wisdom in this world and much pain has been in the breaking of this shell that encloses our understanding 3. Such wisdom shines beneath the soft warm gaze of my teacher, yet looking further, one is able to see that ferocity lies within the depths from a wound that forever remains raw: ferocity born of all this lost innocence. There is depth within that must be drawn upon to walk the path. How to build this iron core and remain soft in body, flexible in spirit, ever with beginner’s mind? Ahh, that is the true way of the warrior.
My teacher, the head and heart of a convent in Nova Scotia, states that at this time in the world, it is of paramount importance that we share and connect with each other. Every truth we discover within, every step that we know in our bones to be a step on the path, can be shone out into the marketplace of our friends and families, colleagues and communities. It requires great discipline and great courage in these times of great fear and control, to trust what we know to be good at the root level and live that to the best of our ability so that we touch each person we meet with truth, simply by being ourselves and a true path. No matter how small the pebble dropped into the pond, the ripples will flow out continuing to move waters far beyond the source. Conversely, every time we step off the path, every time we push down the feeling of truth that wells within us, no matter how seemingly small or insignificant the circumstance,
we reinforce the imbalance that is crumbling about us. There is no one who is looking over your shoulder, no one to tell you that your next choice is a true choice or not, except your own knowing deep in your own heart; for no one else can turn this ship around, there is no one left now except us – we are the ones we’ve been waiting for.Every one of us has unique gifts to share, a unique light to shine. How do you illuminate the marketplace for your fellow travelers on the way?
1Ten Oxherding Pictures by Zen Master Kakuan, China, 12th C. Transcribed by Nyogen Sensaki & Paul Reps, illustrations by Tomikichiro Tokuriki, in Zen Flesh, Zen Bones (1957) Tuttle Publishing, Rutland VT; Tokyo.
2The author’s own interpretation of an excerpt from one of the many versions of the famous speech by Chief Seattle (Si’ahl), a Dkhw’Duw’Absh Chief born around 1970. The date, location and actual contents of the speech are controversial. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chief_Seattle
3“Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.” Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet