“The ancient Irish bards knew the Salmon of Knowledge as the giver of all life’s wisdom. In the salmon’s leap of understanding like a leap of faith, we can see ourselves ‘in our element,’ immersed in the river of life.” ~ Lynn Culbreath Noel
“Yet, it’s implication and potential has also forced me to step back and reflect on it. And this reflection has lasted longer that I would have liked but I was struck dumb, rendered mute.
“From the opening quote ………. “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life” ……….. for there is always dust, dust is everywhere and dust always gathers. Dust and decay. And every so often, we need a good dusting. For in between the dust to the dust and in between the ashes to the ashes, Life cries out to be engaged with.”
Allow me to follow along with your in-depth commentary from my last post and engage your considerations. I like a good dusting in conversation.
For some third-party overseeing, I’ll include some of the astute insights from one of my trusty old mentors, the Zen scholar, Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki, who was (and still is) extremely gifted at dusting things off. As we should always have someone around in conversations who won’t lose sight of the real direction we intend to go. His references to Zen here should be read as the universal practice of immersion or absorption (the original definition of the word), not an organized school of thought. Here’s a little writeup about him from the theologian, Thomas Merton, to give some appropriate authoritative punch that his voice deserves: “Though perhaps less universally known than such figures as Einstein or Gandhi (who became symbols of our time) Daisetz Suzuki was no less remarkable a man than these. And though his work may not have had such resounding and public effect, he contributed no little to the spiritual and intellectual revolution of our time.”
“The sight of that brave young girl of tender years, unselfconsciously leaning into the music and “rapt in the wonder of it”.
Yes. I think brave is the key word here. And a good place to start. “Rapt in the wonder of it” is what we all seek on the most existential level, probably more than anything, yet we often just don’t ignite enough courage to fully immerse ourselves in the opportunities that constantly offer themselves to us. But I’d say, too, that your own engagement of the themes presented in the last post is a great example of leaning in far enough to get to a genuine surprise…and interesting conversation.
“And yet, I fear that, too often I take Art for granted ……. to my great shame. But why so? How can this be? Art is all around us. We are constantly surrounded with Art. All kinds of Art. From the man-made to the natural, from the monumental to the minuscule, from the extravagant to the exquisite. Is it that I am not paying close enough attention? That I have not leaned in far enough? But not doing so can only be a source of discontent.
“It is as if my senses do not work properly. Or perhaps it is that my senses are not paying attention to my heart and soul. The arteries from the heart to my various senses have been blocked with the distractions and detritus of everyday life. This plaque of neglect must be cleansed.”
That’s an artistically wonderful phrasing: “This plague of neglect,” and maybe a good title for a book you might write someday. Usually, the problem is the reverse of what you’ve mentioned: the heart and soul not paying attention to the senses. Nothing wrong with the senses; even if you’re blind and deaf, there’s more than plenty to work with. Recognition of something exceptional, coming to an entirely different and new perspective, is largely about how genuinely willing we are to being deeply moved. Not just when we’re in front of the obviously spectacular but at any given moment.
“Zen opens a man’s eyes to the greatest mystery as it is daily and hourly performed; it enlarges the heart to embrace eternity of time and infinity of space in its every palpitation; it makes us live in the world as if walking in the garden of Eden.” ~ D. T. S.
“I believe there are those, both ancient and modern, who consider the heart to be at the ‘center’ of our beings. That it sends more signals to the brain than vice versa. That it is the primary organ.”
One has to leap with a lot of muscle to get up the waterfall of common social momentum and personal complacency, instead of just passively, heartlessly floating downstream. Pretty much anyone can do it, or perhaps anyone can, but as Einstein pointed out (and the first quote I have on this blog from years ago), “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.” Not unrelated, evoking that video of the healing qualities of art in the last post, the number one cause of death among humans on this planet is, by far, heart disease.
“But of course, leaning in to art requires work. It requires dedicated, precise and regular application so as to strengthen that lean, that muscle, that connection.”
“You ought to know how to rise above the trivialities of life, in which most people are found drowning themselves.” ~ D. T. S.
Now you enter into some practical considerations, which is where many of us get lost. To do what you suggest – “dedicated, precise and regular application” – does require specific choices, such as consistently choosing to follow our deeper inclinations, even in the face of the rational obligations of the day. Setting aside time to engage our heartfelt and intuitive callings by delving into forms of immersion that wake us up (which is what art and nature, and those we love, are there for). Traditionally, in all practices that promote or encourage this kind of immersion (and there are many) one begins by entering into the most silencing forms of emptiness we can find, from which we at least become still and fully receptive, undistracted by the common mania.
We could call this kind of choice-making leaps of faith in the sense that it requires listening to and acting upon a different internal voice, one that is usually not understood and is rejected by the rational mind. This is what great artists (and scientists) do; what makes them great is that they just do it more completely and more frequently than the rest of us. In keeping with practical concerns, in leaps of faith of all kinds, here’s my own personal guiding principle:
A leap of faith should not be taken from the belief that everything will work out but from the inspired intuition that you’ll have the dogged courage to make it work out.
Although these are good, too:
“As Einstein queried, ‘Why is it that I get my best ideas in the morning while I’m shaving?’ Shaving is like meditation with a sharp object. When the mind is empty and receptive, big ideas flow through every cell of our body. When we’re thinking too hard, we tense up and nothing can flow through us: our energy gets stuck in our heads. Sometimes you have to take a leap of faith and trust that if you turn off your head, your feet will take you where you need to go.” ~ Gabrielle Roth
“Technical knowledge is not enough. One must transcend techniques so that the art becomes an artless art, growing out of the unconscious… Zen perceives and feels, and does not abstract and meditate. (One) penetrates and is finally lost in the immersion.” ~ D. T. S.
“And for me there is also something else at play here, something that runs through it. The suggestion that by leaning into art, we are also attempting to lean into something greater, something more mysterious, something sacred ……. something divine.“
“The greatest productions of art, whether painting, music, sculpture or poetry, have invariably this quality – something approaching the work of God.” ~ D. T. S.
“And by leaning into art and then by trying to lean in even further, we can perhaps access a portal to new levels. Levels that are both higher and deeper. Perhaps we can lean through and beyond the Art to what came before the Art. To what inspired the Art. The initial impulse. To that distant echo of some ancient voice…”
Ultimately, that’s the purpose of the endeavor. Art points toward. You either immerse yourself in creating or you immerse yourself in what is created. To stand back and away from both is to return to the nagging ache of unending discontent while strategizing for the next ambition or evasion…and you’re out of the water (someone more assertive than I am might add, and flopping around on dry land).
I’d add, since you’ve touched upon it, that the search for a viable explanation of what the divine is, or what God is, is the same thing. The tighter the hand that grasps at water, the less water there is in it. There are many people holding up and frantically waving a wet hand, claiming that they’ve found God. No need to try to understand, translate or explain; just to quietly, humbly recognize and delve into those aspects of Mystery we can sometimes perceive and experience…and courageously follow where that leads us.
“Our ordinary life only touches the fringe of personality, it does not cause a commotion in the deepest parts of the soul… We may be clever, bright, and all that, but what we produce lacks depth, sincerity, and does not appeal to the inmost feelings.” ~ D. T. S.
“Perhaps our time here on earth is not unlike joining an age old trail. As old as life itself and one which will last as long as we roam the earth. But we are only pilgrims on this trail… Hopefully contributing to the greater good of our fellow pilgrims and those who come after us. And then, inevitably, when our time comes to bid farewell to this well worn path, we can do so, relieved in the knowledge that we have pilgrimed well.”
Yes, the contribution to our fellow pilgrims and those who come after us – this is what makes the journey honorable, meaningful and not just about oneself. That the life we have lived, the travelling along the age old trail – not just what we said but what we did and why we did it – is finally worthy of someone really taking pause and noticing. That whatever it is that we’ve produced, even if that’s just our passing presence among those we come across along the trail, encourages their own immersion and leaps of faith.