laying down a path in walking

From Mind in Life: Biology, Phenomenology, and the Sciences of Mind by Evan Thompson:

We living organisms are historical and developmental beings.  We descend by reproduction, not only from our human ancestors, but from countless other living beings, forebears who preceded the human species, all the way back to the earliest bacterial organisms….  Although our parents and ancestral organisms supply our bodies with developmental resources and help to guide our bodies on the path they tread in life, that pathway does not lie pre-determined within us – in our genes or anywhere else.  Rather the path is our footsteps laid down in walking… there is no clear separation between path and footsteps, the way and its walking.

I went into the woods a few days ago, an appointment with life I have missed for many years.  From the house to the barn, the path is clear, the grass and snow thrashed down by tractor and truck each Summer and Winter.  At the barn, long empty of horses and now the domain of raccoons, wild cats, and pigeons, the path curves down to the fields and then up to the woods.  On this day, the snow is pock-marked with prints of dogs, coyotes, and deer.  Up in the woods, there is, among the hoof prints left by the neighbours’ horses drawing a sleigh, a trace of of moose tracks.

The woods are tight and close but I’m familiar with them. Yet as I wind my way through the new p ath cut for the sleigh rides, I’m anxious because there is no internal map that tells me which curve leads out onto the road or back to the fields. I see the trail but have a little faith in it.  In fact, it’s no path to my mind because it was designed to and constructed by someone else’s agenda.  Half an hour into it, I want out.

One of my teachers pointed out that when things are difficult, the common assumption is that getting out of the situation is the solution: The only way through is out.  In practice, however, we see that only way out is through.  So, I plod along wishing I had brought my walking stick if only for defense against a rampaging coyote.

Thompson writes that “the human body, unless it is dead, is always the lived body.”  As I tread down this path of practice, I am caught by how defenseless I am, I must be, in order to fully experience this “lived body.”  The feedback from brain to environment and back to brain not only generates but orients and grounds me.  I have to let go of the signs and directives that suggest safety in old understandings, that lulls the body and mind.  Even my understanding that the path is defined by edges and borders can be misguiding.

And yet, this practice of laying down a path in walking has its challenges – especially when my lived body is flat on its back because it interacted with the ice under the non-path.

Thank you for practicing,


4 thoughts on “laying down a path in walking

  1. I hope that both your back and the ice survived the, uh, interaction!

    As I read this post today, Genju, I was also listening to this talk by Jiryu Mark, a teacher at San Francisco Zen Center. It’s one of those things – he was talking about exactly the same thing – of experiencing the life we actually have, in this moment.

    I found this talk via Monkey Mind – very nice listening:
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    • Thanks for the talk, Barry! I had a chance to listen to a portion before sangha tonight. I’ll finish it tomorrow on my long drive to work outside the city!

      Beautiful how he starts with “how often do we have to say this?” It reminds me of Thich Nhat Hanh saying that teaching the dharma is like being the airline steward who goes over the same thing at the beginning of every flight: how to put on the seatbelt, how to use to oxygen mask, where the exits are… No matter how often we hear it, there is always that one time we need to really hear it or that one person who has never heard it before!

      Your comment also reminded me of Clark Strand’s words: Where you meditate has everything to do with how useful your meditation will be. But by where, I don’t necessarily mean in which room of the house, or whether you live in a quiet spot or not. I simply mean that you should meditate inside the life you have. If you are an accountant, meditate inside an accountant’s life. If you are a policeman, meditate inside of that. Wherever you want to illuminate your life, meditate precisely in that spot. (The Wooden Bowl by Clark Strand) (from my post “2 wooden bowls” on Sept 30/09)

      And here we are saying it again! 😉

      I think Evan’s point about laying down the path by walking digs deeper too. There is only that moment of practice. There are no rituals, forms, magic movements that lead to enlightenment; this very step is already it.

      At the same time, all those rituals etc have their usefulness – just as having practiced falling down for many decades came in handy when I hit that ice patch! The falling was the path and the practice since childhood made it easy! 😀

      • Thanks for sharing the Clark Strand teaching, Genju.

        Funny how we have to say the same things, over and over. It’s like talking with someone who only understands a few words of a language. Go slow. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

        Maybe they’ll get it, if we can remain helpful.

        • And thank you for helping me by offering the talk by Jiryu. I offered it to my sangha and listened to it on the drive to work. How fabulous! Yes, the office chair is not my zafu but offers as profound a meditation! And I would love to trade in the oppositional people in my life for better oppositional people with better oppositions! Hah! 😉

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