i am ox

I am Ox.

Much has been written about me.

Dramatic battles that stand proof of my unruly nature.

It is said I was sought, found, won, and lost.

Perhaps.

What Ox is needed when there is only seeking, finding, winning, and losing?

And yet again, perhaps

there is truly that creature – so I am told –

that can only meet by moving towards or away

– or stand confused.

But I am Ox

and I only know oxish things

like eating, sleeping, voiding, and sighing deeply in contentment of being Ox.

transform what is given

Addiss & Seo continue with the second characteristic of Japanese art.  It is the “ability to borrow and transform features for the arts of other countries.  Successive waves of influence from China and Korea brought to Japan Buddhism, a written language, and new forms of government, as well as different styles of art.”  This capacity to contain anything and allow time to work on it gives Japanese art its enduring quality as well as its infinite variety.  Addiss & Seo point out that a less confident culture may have submitted to the influx of new ways, becoming mere echoes of the original.  Japanese culture however emerged from the waves of external influence to offer a unique perspective.

Practice is enriched when I can transform what is given into an embodied process.  At the same time it needs to hold the elements of the original.  Perhaps that is the beginning of discernment.  Or perhaps it is too much below awareness to be tracked.  The ox was insistent on this point.  It is compelled to step out of its stereotype as destroyer of China shops.  It longs for the relational but that requires an openness on my part.  I have to be willing to be forged into something new, be open to what emerges from our connection.

If our untamed nature is the gift, what might happen if we surrendered without submitting?

Thank you for practising,

Genju

Tomorrow:  Fearless asymmetry

how to look

In preparing for our trip to the Hakuin exhibit in NYC, I’ve re-visited Stephen Addiss and Audrey Seo’s lovely book How to Look at Japanese Art.  Before dropping into their typical intense scholarly style of explaining everything from ceramic to ink art, Addiss and Seo examine the nature of Japanese art that sets it apart and makes it enduring as an art form.  There are four characteristics that typify Japanese art and in reading about them, it seems these are also four characteristics of practice.  I’m not surprised that reading about the nature of one form resonates with the nature of True Form.

The first characteristic of Japanese art is a “deep understanding and respect for nature, including human nature.  This appears in subject matter – such as birds and flowers, landscapes, or human figures in daily activity – and it is also apparent in artistic approach.”  Not enough to simply hold the object of art in esteem, Japanese art forms drop into the heart of the object with reverence.  The form and texture of clay, wood, paper, ink, brush are all part of the final completed work.

Examining my practice through this lens, I’m challenged to hold every aspect of practice with respect, especially my very human nature that tends to derail it regularly.  In the metaphor of brushwork, my nature is the unruly brush that refuses to pick up a sufficient reservoir of ink in its hair and can only splatter illusions across the paper.  As I stagger along this route, I’m constantly amazed by the delusional mind;  how self-serving, how willing to latch onto the shards of information that allow me to hold onto to those things that support my greed, aversion, and ignorance.

Now I’m wondering: what if my work is not to save myself from my Self but rather to love it?  What if I simply hold my delusional mind with respect for what it is?  What if that pesky ox who keeps revisiting my art table decided to turn and meet its herder with a “deep understanding and respect?”

What might happen then?

Thank you for practising,

Genju

Tomorrow: Transforming what is given

showing up

that which you are

what is it
that comes
and goes,

anchoring
past and
present,

seizing
the heart
in this breath

now this

now this

now this

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

We began with the recognition of our yearning for something to complete us and travelled through the twisted inner roads, learning that the journey is not about what we crave.  It is about the relationship we have with ourselves as needing, wanting, desiring creatures.  Kabir (Wanting-Creature*) is a gentle and knowing guide in these matters:

I said to the wanting-creature inside me:
what is this river you want to cross?

There are no travelers on the river-road, and no road.
Do you see anyone moving about on that bank, or
resting?

I began this blog as a way of coming to terms with several losses: friendships, communities, trust that arms which could have caught me would.  In my pain, I created a suffering-belief that if I could just get across this river, I would heal and move on.  This space became the Ox that would carry me across.  Over the months of agonizing about my writing, my brush art, my practice, it evolved into a space where I met with wise and beautiful beings who sat with me as we tried to figure out the paradox of needing to cross this river that really isn’t there.  And that became the Ox.

There is no river at all, and no boat, and no boatman.
There is no towrope either, and no one to pull it.
There is no ground, no sky, no time no bank, no ford!
And there is no body, and no mind!

The Ox is easier to tame when it is something tangible.  My body understands the hours of rigorous work required to master a physical activity.  Even my mind understands what it takes to cultivate a strong knowledge base (it understands but has yet to build one that isn’t wonky in some way or the other).  But this well of rising and falling sensations that so quickly take on shape and meaning is a battle with mists and spirits.  My commitment to writing everyday, and thinking about writing when I wasn’t, helped.  Like laying down straw on muddy paths, it eased the transition from one moment to the next.  And yet, and yet, the belief was strong that there was a home I would reach where this suffering would end.

Do you believe there is some place that will make the
soul less thirsty?
In that great absence you will find nothing.

Opening to the inspirations of other writers in this virtual universe (you all know who you are!), I found “some place” would briefly be “here” and the “great absence” could be comforting.  Never for long but long enough to face my delusions, to let go of the concept that healing happened on the other side of this non-river.

Be strong then, and enter into your own body;
there you have a solid place for your feet.

Think about it carefully!
Don’t go off somewhere else!

I have no illusions of having transcended the causes and conditions of pain.  There are no illusions of forgiveness or a transformation in my deep desire for this to be different.  I do go off “somewhere else.”  And I come back, here.  Regardless of the ephemeral nature of the Ox or the convoluted turns of the journey, I realize that I cannot be other than where I am.  And in this solid place beneath my feet, my practice is nothing more than to show up for all that I am.

Kabir says this: just throw away all thoughts of
imaginary things,
and stand firm in that which you are.

Here.  As I am.  For now…

… in what is actually the Second-to-Last frame of our Ox-Herding journey.

Thank you for travelling with me and for all your comments, laughter, and love.

Most of all,

Thank you for practicing,

Genju

*The Kabir Book: Forty Four of the Ecstatic Poems of Kabir
Translation by Robert Bly.
Beacon Press, Boston, 1993.