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Inward Gaze - a Fugue collab

29.10.2001

feeling kinda how a girl feels

Project 18 for Fugue is interpretation of a quote from William Blake.

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.

William Blake, The Auguries of Innocence

Inward Gaze

what Blake had in mind when he wrote those lines, i have no idea. and i've chosen to look at them outside the context of the rest of the poem. what struck me about them was this: meditation.

i discovered formal meditation as part of yoga a few years ago. i'd always done some sort of meditation, without naming it as such. focusing on the inward life, seeking the stillness and quiet, has always been a way for me to try to calm my mind when it becomes too flustered with the daily nitty gritty. i don't always remember to do that; sometimes my life runs away from me, and i try to chase it down, my bag flopping awkwardly over my shoulder as i hurry to catch up.

i feel incomplete, sometimes, because i fail to sit quietly and look inward. it's necessary to seek that silence. silence, as Philip Zaleski pointed out, has no synonym. quiet is not the same, nor is stillness or rest. silence is an absolute. it is the thing that allows us to connect, replenish, and survive. you need it to feed the soul, nourish that grain of sand, let it nourish you.

silence is not about rejection or shutting out, however. Thomas Merton, just before he died in 1968, was travelling in Ceylon, and stood before the Buddhas in the forest outside the caves of Polonnaruwa. this is what he wrote:

I am able to approach the Buddhas barefoot and undisturbed, my feet in wet grass, wet sand. Then the silence of the extraordinary faces. The great smiles. Huge and yet subtle. Filled with every posibility, questioning nothing, knowing everything, rejecting nothing.... Looking at these figures I was suddenly, almost forcibly, jerked clean out of the habitual, half-tied vision of things, and an inner clearness, clarity, as if exploding from the rocks themselves, became evident and obvious.

silence can be a gift. and i didn't discover that until i started yoga meditation, directed by a teacher. it is one of the most freeing moments. that first time i hit the point, breathing quietly, chanting sat nam, was a revelation. shutting down, looking with the third eye instead of the everyday ones, feeling my breath in my spine, paying attention to the energies in my own body, i was suddenly gifted with the understanding that we are all connected. that inward vista is not shuttered. i could see and feel the world around me, and not the hard wooden floor under me, or the glass windows around us, but the life of the world we live in. that moment started to show me the unbounded universal energy that we all contain.

and it was a reminder that we can see this connection any time we choose to do so. i was thinking recently about my grandfather's garden. it's fall here now, and the trees are turning. leaves gather up in corners, and i pull the collar of my coat a little closer as i trudge down the street. watching the earth get ready for winter, i thought about summer. i must have been 5 or 6. i was sitting in gramp's garden along the side of the garage, on a July afternoon, with corn stalks standing over me, and sunripe tomatoes glowing red on the vine. gramp was standing on the far edge of the garden, surveying his work. my mom and maybe my grandmother were there, too, picking green beans and talking. the garden seemed huge to me, and yet it contained everything i needed, right there within reach. that was a perfect happy moment, sitting there in the dirt, looking at just what was around me and realizing how much was there.

i've been struggling with silence and concommitant balance in the past few months. the events on September 11th upended many things, not the least of which being peace of mind for many. i've stopped watching the news, by and large. the turmoil has been eating away at me. and i've needed to find words to remind me that there is kindness and belief out there - not just belief, but a way to believe. i was in the bookstore last week, and one of the books nearly jumped off the shelf at me - The Best Spiritual Writing 2001. (oddly, i was reading it in a caf¸ the other day, and someone asked me what class it was for, assuming that it was too serious to be read for pleasure.)

Wendell Berry is a wonderful and subtle writer whose word art i have only come to appreciate as i get older. (unappreciative little teenager, i couldn't see what he was trying to say.) a piece of his called Sabbaths, 1999 originally appeared in The Hudson Review, and has been included in The Best Spiritual Writing 2001. i'd strongly urge you to investigate the book, as i can really only quote a snippet of his piece.

I dream of a quiet man
who explains nothing and defends
nothing, but only knows
where the rarest wildflowers
are blooming, and who goes
where they are and stands still
and finds that he is smiling
and not by his own will.

Berry's meditations on the simple beauty before our eyes has been a balm, yes, and it's easy to call it just that. but they resonated very strongly with me; i shivered as i read them.

What more did I
think I wanted? Here is
what has always been.
Here is what will always
be. Even in me,
the Maker of all this
returns in rest, even
to the slightest of His works,
a yellow leaf slowly
falling, and is pleased.

in the face of all of this, in the face of everything, meditation and silence remind us of what will always be, to feel the wet grass and sand beneath our feet, and to see the world in a grain of sand.

yesterday :: tomorrow

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