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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Working on the easterly path

Yesterday I was helping Bro. Simon place stones and rocks, he working on a westerly path, I on an easterly path, of the labyrinth. Because I was being mindless in my work, allowing the autopilot in my head to place the rocks just as instructed by Bro. Simon, my mind was allowed to wander. I should add that we were working in the cool air of early morning before the rather brutal desert sun would chase us indoors. So here are a few of my mental jottings from yesterday morning.

If it were not for humankind, all would be Truth?

An "explosion" may seem haphazard chaos and a human observing it would see a rather rapid and blurry event and without external sensing instruments, could make no sense of what took place, whereas with measuring instruments, one could "slow down the events" taking place so that it could be possible to reconstruct the entire "explosion" event so that the seemingly disorder is in fact order.

Was the Big Bang an explosion?

What if in that mysterious pond (or ocean) at the beginning, not one inanimate piece of stuff leaped over from the realm of inorganic to organic, but many at that most important of moments. Whatever the defining ingredient (electricity?) of that defining moment, perhaps many tiny bits were energized into whatever it takes for synthesis to make that moment truly a beginning. Reason would tell us that many of the bits that came to life most likely didn't live long enough to replicate, but maybe more than one did, in fact it makes more sense that many did if our pot of soup is filled with just the right ingredients and only awaits the final ingredient. I would think these many bits that came to life would most likely evolve in similar manners simply because of their like makeup. But of course their exterior likeness would soon disappear as they all traveled their separate paths. Which leads me to believe that perhaps the platypus and the crane fly did not have a common ancestor. Most likely a common pre-life list of inorganic ingredients, but a different organic grandparent. I suppose one could argue about commonness between platypus and crane fly, but could not that commonness be from the shaping exterior environment and not necessarily from a common organic ancestor?

And further, that those first assemblages, like assemblages, in a like environment, all became animate and most of all could replicate, then they all share the same common assemblage of parts. Somewhat like a science fair for kids, each kid receives a box with the exact same assemblage of parts, yet each kid puts together entirely different 'things'. Yet on close inspection one finds the common building blocks. Perhaps the environment, I'll thinking on a grand scale, the cosmos environment, steers through the natural laws life on a very narrow pathway.

But no, current science thinks me wrong. Using DNA as a recorder of the history of life, science is piecing together the evidence that all life on Earth follows the countless pathways back to a singular path, to a singular event, to a singular inorganic-becomes-organic event. Which got me to thinking of this most hospitable planet with all the varied chemistry and all the wondrous lightning that electrifies the countless brewing soups of not-yet-quite-life with bolts striking around the clock since the dawn of ages, and even the undersea boiling cauldrons of chemistry soup, and yet still nothing again ever sprang to life? Life is rare indeed. Yet the ever so faithful scientist build huge radio-telescopes, listening to the skies around the clock, do they really think life is so easy to make?

Then Bro. Simon hollered, "Are you still on that mindless kick?"

Thursday, June 21, 2007

And back again

Bro. Simon was observing my mindlessness today and as I was lost in chewing a bite of my tuna sandwich, he spoke out loud, not even facing me, but as thought speaking to himself, saying, "When one can look at nothing and see everything and listen to nothing and hear everything, then one will realize the power of mindlessness." Then without another word, he took a first bite from his tuna sandwich, then rose and left with sandwich in hand. Watching all this (I'm afraid in my mindlessness I was becoming acutely aware of my surroundings, almost mindfully aware!) was Bro. Sedwich, who with crossed arms, glanced from the departing Bro. Simon and then back to me, then said, "Thou must be emptied of that wherewith thou art full, that thou mayest be filled with that whereof thou art empty.” He then stood and with his tuna sandwich headed for the door, but paused long enough to say, "Saint Augustine." And I must say, it was difficult to remain mindless for my mind would not let go of those words, but I was able to let them go. That was yesterday, and now today I can mindfully ponder those words, because today they seem to pour into me as into an empty vessel.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

A Mindful Experiment

Upon awakening and after the first blink or two, I reminded myself of the mission for the day, to will myself to be mindful with every breath I take. Suddenly I find myself staring at the unlit candle, the candle that just hours before reminded me to abandon my mindfulness. Now as I light the candle and wait for the sun to break the horizon and announce the new day, then I and we will take that cue and celebrate with break fast. But now I'm getting ahead of the here and now. Recently I've been considering vision and sight and the world outside my skull and the world inside my skull and trying to think how they are different, yet the same. I've talked about vision and here I may repeat myself, but as I found yesterday, repetition can be fun! So I repeat what I think transpires when one looks at a candle flame. A kind of miracle that occurs everytime you open your eyes. It amazes me to consider it. Yet again and again I do. Right now in the predawn darkness I am viewing a candle at arms length, burning, and yes the photons from the flame strike my retina and all the rest of the optical mechanics that take place until the electro-chemical coded message is translated in my brain as a dancing flame, but then the miracle continues, my mind takes that interior dancing flame from the mush of gray matter and projects it at arm's length in front of my nose, and the flame I think I see before my nose is actually the 'projected flames' dancing perhaps a nanosecond in time behind the actual dancing flame before my nose. And to complete the trick, my mind makes me think the projected flame and the actual flame are one and the same! Yet the real flame, or I should say, the flame I 'see' is the imaginary flame hidden in the darkness in the center of my skull, a flame sans photons. A black flame? Hmmm, now I'm hungry and must break my fast.

Monday, June 18, 2007

A Mindless Experiment

A day of mindlessness isn't as easy as one would think. What makes it so ironic is that I had to awake and in those first blinks I had to be very mindful of what I had planned for the day, I had to force my mind to let go, and that was only the first minute of the new day. To be mindless one must already have a knapsack full of habits, full of comfortable routines, full of structure that you or others have already put into place. For without all these built-in paths and well-worn trails, one would awake to a world demanding thought and consideration from the very first blink of the eyes. I kept thinking, and like a mosquito, I would slap at the very thought of thought and hurriedly follow the familiar paths, and my first prayer became the Lord's Prayer repeated again and again, for the numbing rote of it caused my normal consideration of each word to be instead a gong of sound, the words became like meaningless notes resonating from the gong, meaningless for a reasoning mind, yet meaningful to the mind entering a meditative state. Hallowed ... hallowed ... hallowed ... hallowed ... hallowed ... and the sound and the vibrations and the meaninglessness of the uttered sound soon startled me when it became a sacred chant that revealed the uttered word, as though the repetition somehow worked like a can opener to cut its way around 'hallowed' until like a punctured can of coffee releasing a wonderful whiff of aroma -- 'hallowed ... hallowed ... hallowed' released a most fragrant sound that was more sacred than even my reading of that word. The essence of 'hallowed' was finally released to me and it was not my mind that was jolted, but my nose! In the still darken predawn chapel I smelled a bouquet of flowers where when the first light of day revealed not a blossom. Well, that was but the first hour of my mindless day today, I now feel too tired to put into words the rest of the day, for I'm cheating while writing all this, I fear this makes my experiment not very scientific, and right now just a candle before me burning and the dancing flame is calling me to dispense with this mindfulness. And I will.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Mindful or Mindless?

My morning walks have gone from mindless to mindful, and back, and forth again. The 'good' mindlessness of our everyday life is what some would call all that which we do on 'autopilot' or the necessity of letting go of control and allowing the parts of the brain to do what they were designed to do, to take care of the million things that our conscious mind would only get in the way of. And of course all that which our conscious mind has no control over, or so we think, all the inner workings of our own body. Sometimes when we confuse who controls what is when we get into trouble, like letting the unconscious mind take care of the heart, and usually that works just fine, we think not of the heart beat and by not thinking of it we have a regular beat, but once we dwell upon it is when the trouble starts. So mindlessness in this respect is something we depend upon to survive. I said before that the goal of Buddhism is a kind of mindlessness, yet the irony is that to attain that state one must practice mindfulness. The Zen Buddhist meditates in a very mindful way, even becoming hyperaware of each breath, seeking to become aware of the moment, or living in the here and now, which sort of shoves the past into the background and leaves the future where it rightly belongs, in the realm of the unknown. Bro. Simon gave me this teaching from Buddha (I think because he has reservations about my thoughts on mindlessness).

Bhaddekaratta Sutta
(Buddha’s teaching on living in the present)

Do not pursue the past,
Do not lose yourself in the future.
The past no longer is,
The future has not yet come.
Looking deeply at life as it is, in the very here and now.
The practitioner dwells in stability and freedom.
We must be diligent today,
To wait until tomorrow is too late.
Death comes unexpectedly,
How can we bargain with it?
The sage calls on the person who knows how to dwell in
mindfulness, night and day.
One who knows the better ways to live alive

And Jesus saying:
Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil.
Matthew 6:34

So does that mean we are to be mindless about the future? Or does it mean that we are to practice mindfulness in the present, mindfulness daily, hourly, each minute, each second, and then this mindfulness when approached from a right heart (for too a criminal can be mindful in planning a crime), the good mindfulness of living in the moment, being aware of the moment, doing the right thing each moment, this kind of mindfulness changes the mind and heart in tiny increments, until we find ourselves mindlessly doing mindful things.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Mindlessness and mindfulness

This morning I began a pre-dawn walk that allowed me to follow some meandering trails that lead to no particular place and it was when the dawn was breaking that I began to consider the difference between being mindless and mindful. I suppose one could consider being mindless as allowing your environment to govern your behavior and further that this would be a less than satisfying state of being, but in Eastern spirituality, I'm now thinking Zen, this mindlessness is considered a positive, in fact, isn't that the goal of Buddhism? To become so mindless that the governing environment and you become one. (I'm thinking of environment in its broadest sense, physical, mental, natural, artificial) So one forfeits one's apartness for unity with the all. Yet being mindful is when one seeks to understand the environment one finds oneself in and then seeks to understand it and in the understanding seeks to make ones behavior guided by this understanding. That is, mindlessness is allowing your environment to guide your behavior, mindfulness is seeking to guide your behavior by understanding your environment. Mindlessness seeks unity. Mindfulness seeks apartness. Hmmm, as I was returning to the monastery, these thoughts seemed to swirl before me, and I must admit, both seem attractive. For break fast Bro. Simon fried up some tofu that was dipped in egg and sprinkled with lots of pepper, both black and red, and I became very mindless and just took everything in.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Feeling of rightness

Alas, I've been away for a few days and upon my return I have found that the labyrinth project had been in disarray, for I'm told that Bro. Juniper had changed his mind when he felt the rock and stone labyrinth wasn't taking shape as the imaginary labyrinth that he had constructed in his mind, which after much discussion he was able to persuade the other brothers that the care and placement of each rock and stone would make all the difference in the world, for the former piling of rocks in a sort of jumbled manner gave the appearance of not love and care, but haste and carelessness, and after constructing a sample of what he had in mind, that is, he carefully laid similar sized rocks (a bit larger than fist size) in a short course to demonstrate his vision. I should note that he wanted the natural desert varnish of the rocks to be face up, in other words, the rocks when placed would have the similar surface color which he feels helps to keep the course of rocks in harmony and from having a "spotty look" that would distract the eye. I'm told that the other brothers agreed after taking in his sample course of rocks. So you can imagine the extra work of removing all the previously placed rocks and stones, and then on top of that, Bro. Juniper personally going through the piles and making selections and rejections, with Bro. Sedwick volunteering to take the rejected rocks and stones and returning them, in a natural manner, back to the desert, meaning that each be placed with the desert varnish facing up. Well, I returned to find the labyrinth, the new labyrinth, about twenty percent completed, and my first view was at sunset and I must say that I'm amazed at the difference, and am thankful that Bro. Juniper not only recognized the errors of our ways, but held to his vision and I can see now that that vision is worth the extra effort of all. Bro. Sedwick added that anything worth doing is worth doing right. Which gave me pause to ponder what exactly is right and knowing the rightness of what one is doing or about to do, yet mediating upon the sunset light upon the varnished desert stones I feel the answer within, the rightness of anything we do is when we do it and live it in God's shalom, and only then does our feeling of rightness become real.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

A journey right here and now

I must admit the race may seem a bit futile, but I've noticed many of the brothers have been walking over to a thermometer that is mounted on the side of the tool shed to sort of verify that indeed, summer is fast approaching. But back to my race, a few of us have decided to construct a labyrinth on a rather flat patch of dry and crusty earth right outside the east wall, a sort of replica of the Chartres labyrinth, only this one is being constructed from collected rocks and stones. I would guess the diameter being about 100 foot, maybe even larger, for Bro. Juniper did all the calculations and for a couple of days was there with his kite string pegged to the center and scratching circles onto the ground. Then he went about stretching string across the entire area into a grid, for his reference drawing of the Chartres labyrinth he has also drawn a grid upon. Then with the drawing in hand, he went about, with a can of white spray paint, spraying reference points, then after that, began spray painting the entire Chartres labyrinth onto the desert floor. All that took about three days. Then taking turns with the wheelbarrow, each of us began the gathering of rocks and stones, with instructions from Bro. Juniper to make sure they are large enough, yet not too large, and not too small. Well, our mountain of rocks and stones is growing, and all the while Bro. Juniper is carefully placing rocks and stones, one by one, atop the white lines. I would guess that the labyrinth is about twenty percent complete. But even now it is becoming an impressive sight to behold, especially in the twilight when the rocks and stones reflect the waning light after sunset. I should also note that Bro. Clarence has been away for several weeks, he departed on a journey to research desert building materials, he is keenly interested in straw bales.