Apr 03 2015
The I Ching States Happiness Lies in the Proper Blend of:
English version by John Stevens
— from Dewdrops on a Lotus Leaf: Zen Poems of Ryokan, Translated by John Stevens
/ Image by x-horizon /
A reminder for us today from that master of wisdom-foolishness, Ryokan, to walk the slim pathway between the extremes, to touch both but not be held by either.
Absolutes are for fundamentalists and those weary of the journey. The rest of us continue to navigate that hidden line where opposites meet. We learn the way by knowing our hearts.
This is a tension I myself have wrestled with in my own journey. As a passionate young seeker, I so wanted holiness, which I understood mostly in terms of physical purity and isolation from the world. I ate only very specific foods, not much of them, and often fasted. I lived much of my 20s and early 30s in retreat, seeking out remote, natural environments to call home.
And, you know what? It worked. My energies began to take on a more sustained, deeply meditative state. I found myself opening in profound ways. I found a way to embody holiness. It worked… for a while.
Sure, I could have continued living in that way, with ever more precise refinements in my practice, and possibly deepening the sense of holiness I felt, and that would have satisfied a certain hunger in my soul. But I started to see a problem with all of that. When I was entirely honest with myself, I noticed that I was becoming more brittle and ethereal, disconnected from people and less able to interact with society. I had created a safe bubble of “purity” around me, and I easily lost my balance whenever that was even slightly disrupted.
I came to the decision that true spirituality was not about some sort of aloof, fragile perfection, but must include an embodied mastery that required grounding and human interaction and the humility to be less than perfect. Much of my journey since then has been about strength, stability, and connection — facing my weakest qualities, instead of retreating into elevated states. I moved back to more populated areas. I began to eat more food, and eat more solid foods, which took a significant mental shift. I even went through a period of lifting weights in order to put some muscle on my overly thin body so I could feel more physically present in the world. And I created the Poetry Chaikhana as a way to connect and share with a much wider world.
Today, my path lacks the certainty it once had. And I am less likely to be floating in blissful states as often as I once did. There are days when I consider that perhaps I should return to the sweet intensity of that interiority. But I remain committed to the long journey — a more rounded sense of embodied mastery. And I am still a stumbling beginner in so many ways.
Like a tree, we need our roots to sink deep into the earth, thickening their grip; that gives us the strong foundation to grow and reach and spread new branches heavenward season after season and not fail at the first gust of wind.
We need to integrate it all. We need wholeness to experience lasting holiness.
We might just notice that opposites are not opposed, but joined. And we dance along the seam of connection.
One last bit of advice: When you dance, dance slow-fast!
(That’s the long and the short of it…
If you celebrate Passover, may it be a day of protection and liberation. If you celebrate Easter, may it be a day of renewal and new life!