transparency of water, part II

Previous: trains to nowhere


The Transparency of Water

Water is fascinating in its qualities.  It is unconstrained yet containable.  It exerts power yet can be held in our cupped hands.  It never actually separates from the mud but is not attached to it.  It is transparent yet reflects everything in its environment.  It holds all manner of flora and fauna yet does not take on the nature of what it carries.  It can be cloud, rain, fog, steam, ice, and liquid.  It nourishes and is crucial for life.

And so is our true nature.

To each thing its own
True deepest inner nature:

Water does not think
Of itself as the consort
Of the bright moonlight it hosts.


When we see only the muddiness in the glass, we forget that the turmoil, the setbacks, the feelings of loss and rejection are being held in the liquid of our true self.  We identify with the turmoil and become fearful that it will define who we are.  Our tendency is to try and break through, move past, look beyond the confusing mess in front of us.  So often, participants tell us, “This is not me.  Before the depression (anxiety, cancer), I was not like this.”  We become distressed because we believe we have lost the purity of water (the real “me”).  We lose our sense of direction and purpose because there is no clarity.

In reality, the clarity is still there.  The nature of our true self, like the water that holds the mud, is transparent so that we can see clearly what is ailing us. The water itself, our true nature, doesn’t become opaque.  It remains clear in order for us to look deeply into what we are actually experiencing.  Its transparency allows us to recognize the nature of the mud and to investigate it carefully.  What ever our pain, our true nature is not tainted by it.  When we can learn to hold the pain we feel the way water contains the mud and not being afraid of what it means about us, we are able to peel away the assumptions and the fears it generates.  What are the real issues of this illness, lost job, or relationship?  What is within my control and what is not?  What am I really feeling: is it anger, withdrawal or disconnection; or is it hurt, rejection or loss?

Our ultimate aspiration is to realize our true nature is constant and not tainted by the pleasant, neutral, and unpleasant life experiences.   To do that, we learn how to look deeply into our experiences so that we can develop clarity and steadiness in the face of turmoil.  We start by learning different mindfulness skills such as meditation which help us calm and settle our body and mind. As we become skillful, we see the ways in which we live distracted and disconnected from our body, feelings, and thinking.  We begin to reconnect body and mind so that we are in an appreciative partnership again.  We remember our true self.

Next: Practicing wellbeing

both hands clapping

In all this chasing after concepts of emptiness, it’s easy to lose sight of the essentials.

“Old Lady O-San” was an enlightened student of Zen master Tetsumon.  She was later tested by Hakuin who posed the koan about one hand clapping.  Ever the pragmatist she replied:

Rather than listen
to Hakuin’s sound
of one hand clapping,
clap both hands
and do business!

from Zen Antics: 100 Stories of Enlightenment transl. & ed. by Thomas Cleary

Shall we get on with our lives?  What needs two hands to grasp, hold, hug, support?

Be kind, be sweet, take a stand, get grouchy, and if he’s not available go for dopey – he’s always been my favourite anyway.

See the universe through the reeds, the forest through the trees.

Thank you for practicing,


solstice and breaking the mirror

Ed: Memorial service for Nanao Sakaki at Upaya Zen Center and memorial service for roshi John Daido Loori at Mt. Tremper.

One more by Nanao Sakaki to meet the Solstice evening:

Break the Mirror

In the morning
After taking cold shower
—–what a mistake—–
I look at the mirror.

There, a funny guy,
Grey hair, white beard, wrinkled skin,
—–what a pity—–
Poor, dirty, old man!
He is not me, absolutely not.

Land and life
Fishing in the ocean
Sleeping in the desert with stars
Building a shelter in the mountains

Farming the ancient way
Singing with coyotes
Singing against nuclear war–
I’ll never be tired of life.

Now I’m seventeen years old,
Very charming young man.
I sit down quietly in lotus position,
Meditating, meditating for nothing.
Suddenly a voice comes to me:

“To stay young,
To save the world,
Break the mirror.”

Thank you for practicing,