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December 2023 Musings

It is time now, I said,
for the deepening and quieting of the spirit
among the flux of happenings.
— Mary Oliver
We’ve just concluded another yearlong retreat, a glorious collective recollection of the depths of Being. The sun is days away from completing its journey south and another new year is just around the corner. Perhaps something about endings evokes reflection and the long evenings of the winter season invite a deepening and quieting of the spirit. If we relax into the embrace of the velvet darkness, what do we see reflected in the internal mirrors of our depths?
As always, it depends on the mirror in question!
If the mirror is the one in the fairy tale of old (yes, that one, where the ego asks, “Mirror, Mirror, on the wall, who is the fairest of us all?”), the descent into the depths of a dualistic darkness makes for a depressing evening of solitude. This mirror always reflects inequality, a comparative reckoning in which someone or something is lacking.
But if the mirror is that of Chuang Tzu,(yes, that one, “the one that grasps nothing, refuses nothing, receives but does not keep”), the solitude of a winter evening won’t be an experience of absence and discontent. The Chinese philosopher’s mirror of awareness reflects truly, illuminating the mirage of personality and the shadow plays of suffering, while modeling the peaceful equipoise of a deep identification with unperturbed witnessing.

The whole moon and the entire sky
are reflected in one dewdrop on the grass.
— Dogen
True inner stillness unlocks the vastness of a silence shimmering with Presence. Isn’t it in pursuit of the dewdrop’s sparkling clarity that we find ourselves practicing reflective listening, that wonderful technique of being wholly receptive to something beyond the noisy chatter of the ego self? And perhaps it is delight in moonlight that moves us to meditation, to train to descend beneath the noisy marketplace of conditioned voices until we are at “the still point in the turning world.” (T.S. Eliot) If we take the time to be still, to let “the mud settle” as another ancient sage suggests, at this time of beginnings and endings what might we see reflected in the mirror of Silence?

Perhaps we will see a journey around a glittering arrangement of insights, a rosary of recollection, the recitation of which deepens a profound awareness?
Perhaps the silence mirrors the hush of a meditation hall before the bell rings, where a group of devoted practitioners reverently recall the dharma, the teachings, the understanding, the way of experiencing the joy of Intelligence knowing itself, a way that is approached with respect, a way that steadfastly offers a refuge, again and yet again, to anyone who seeks it?
Perhaps the silence acknowledges the truth of suffering, its causes, and the noble practice of eight folds that leads to freedom from suffering?
Perhaps the silence reveals the three marks of existence—transiency, suffering and no self, and the blessed knowledge of Emptiness—truths hard to perceive through the veils of conditioned thinking unless explored in the compassionate company of all who have walked and are walking the path?
Perhaps the silence shows the practice required in the realms of conduct (speech, action, livelihood) discipline (endeavor, mindfulness, awareness) wisdom (comprehension, aspiration) to awaken to True Nature and the attitude of fascination necessary to abide by the good laws of the Precepts?
Perhaps one would see how a devoted practice of lovingkindness, pure attention, and correct inquiry deepens one’s faith in an all-pervasive blessedness that merits total self-surrender?
Perhaps the reflection hints at a cosmic narrative of karma, the nature of which is love, play and willingness while conceding the resistance to ceding existing patterns of identity?
And then perhaps, the reflection fades and there is just silence…
undisturbed consciousness, slipping into all consciousness
until an inhalation brings us here, now, aware of being embodied, aware of beginnings and endings, aware of being on an adventure to reclaiming the delight of simply being alive.
deep enough
in order to see something
that is hidden and glimmering.
— Bashō
Perhaps the possibility of what we may encounter in a descent to our depths moves us to embrace periods of solitary contemplation, to bow and say, as we make our way to a plump black cushion in front of a blank wall:
In this way I do most deeply vow to train myself.



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