Immersion

“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.

“When traveling is made too easy and comfortable, its spiritual meaning is lost. This may be called sentimentalism, but a certain sense of loneliness engendered by traveling leads one to reflect upon the meaning of life, for life is after all a travelling from one unknown to another unknown… just a little bit of it (immersion), is what turns one’s humdrum life, a life of monotonous, uninspiring commonplaceness, into one of art, full of genuine inner creativity… I am an artist at living – my work of art is my life.” ~ D. T. S.

Paintings by Alfredo Arreguin

8 Comments Add yours

  1. Guy says:

    I would like to scratch the surface from the quotes and comments up there.

    There are many paths for immersion into elements. One can be immerse in water, in free fall (wind) from a plane, in fire ( not recommended but could be a hell of a ride ), in a desert storm, an avalanche, getting lost in a forest, etc. In life one can learn from University or from Adversity. Fed from a spoon or starving for knowledge.

    I like “immersion into music” to make a parallel with the salmon swimming upstream.

    I like to believe that in any immersion there is a pentatonic melody created by the friction with the element. It it probably not as clear as the one played on a music instrument. For the salmon or on a piano, the momentum pushes up from one octave to the next and so on. Pentatonic scale seems to be a similar, simple and natural rhythm to access higher grounds or higher vertical sounds.

    I was instructed in a dream that when one’s favorite Pentatonic melody is played on the first octave it brings images, memories and words to your mind, on the next octave it makes you sing along and the next octave it makes you dance.

    Bobby McFerrin Demonstrates the Power of the Pentatonic Scale

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Zu7SbF7b9s ( Stairway to heaven – Led Zeppelin piano cover )

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TOxJpPiFe0k ( Claude Debussy: The Girl with the Flaxen Hair )

    One more thing,

    Want to get creative?, Get lost. Ask someone to bring you blindfolded in the middle of a forest and leave you there. Go offtrack. Listen and trust your own melody to find your way or sing “Amazing grace” which is a full Pentatonic melody.

    1. Guy says:

      In addition for those interested:
      A pentatonic scale is a musical scale with five notes per octave, in contrast to the heptatonic scale, which has seven notes per octave (such as the major scale and minor scale).

      Pentatonic scales were developed independently by many ancient civilizations[ and are still used in various musical styles to this day.

      A band called Pentatonix is also a good example:
      Pentatonix, as suggested by Scott Hoying, is named after the pentatonic scale, a musical scale or mode with five notes per octave, representing the five members of the group.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LRP8d7hhpoQ ( more than 620 millions views )

  2. Mihai says:

    “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”

    “listening to and acting upon a different internal voice, one that is usually not understood and is rejected by the rational mind”

    This seems to be a key aspect of finding joy in life. Choice in looking at deeper inclinations, choice in following them, choice in temporarily setting aside rational obligations (or synthetic obligations as you’ve sometimes expressed it), choice in the quality of engagement, choice in temporarily leaving aside dramas and other hooks that affect the quality of engagement.

    Yet this can be distant at times. Synthetic obligations are imposed by the mind with such force, that it momentarily convinces that that is the only way to move forward. Moreover arguments are brought that create the illusion that it’s the deeper inclinations that I am actually following. Why this neglect for the subtler, softer intuitive signals? Why this sacrifice of joy?

    The dishonesty probably comes to serve a search for comfort and brings an impotent sense of petrification.

    Maybe more honesty can be reached by trusting and listening more to this different internal voice. And in order to gain that trust,
    “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”.

    I have believed that this silencing could be found when retreating into a room with little stimulation and attempting to reduce involvement with thoughts. After having been more attentive to short moments of immersion in more stimulating environments, the opportunities seem much wider and more generously available.

    Thank you also for this poignantly relieving refinement, that changes the imposing opinion I held that creation was the only way to find worth in life:
    “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.”

  3. R. says:

    What a beautiful tour of the universe you have offered here and nice creative harmonies blending those 3 main voices (and others).
    I have been holding both simultaneously a firework in my brain and tears in my eyes.

    Really love that painter Arreguin, haven’t felt that excited about a painter for a while.

    I also really liked the article about mysticism and comparing Zen and Christianity ( although the link is not on this page anymore) and how we can blend the sacred with the secular in our daily actions and encounters (just bring the “church” or the sense of sacredness with you wherever you go). Despite the heaviness of those last few weeks I have been able to look at things from a different calmer angle bringing back some much needed balance. It also brought me back nicely to my inner home and to the fundamental question of what is truly essential/ important and how I need to prioritise this better. It is often then a battle or a choice between the rational mind and the intuitive mind and remembering to listen and act to the deeper voice of wisdom.
    That is my real practice of the moment.

    Reading your post also made me recall at least 3 significant moments of exceptional communion I had at your wonderful retreats. I realised that I will not be able to explain the ineffability of those experiences but it was an unexpected sense of a deeper connection with mystery, a sense of true belonging and integration with a much larger life, mystical moments of rare oneness, beauty and the feeling of peace. For this and what you have composed here I’m ever grateful.

    “[T]he deepest level of communication is not communication, but communion. It is wordless. It is beyond words, and it is beyond speech, and it is beyond concept. Not that we discover a new unity. We discover an older unity. My dear brothers, we are already one. But we imagine that we are not. And what we have to recover is our original unity. What we have to be is what we are.”

    Thomas Merton

    “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.

  4. Thank you, folks, for your comments. A few brief additions in response…

    I do like this reference to actual physical immersion in elements as a form of applying the idea. That does not necessarily need to be adversarial. Our best and happiest moments in life, if we recall, are always some form of immersion, whether that be in unusually intimate communion (as Merton mentioned), an unquestioned important project, an unusually beautiful place or gathering, or a similar event that transcends our typical range of thought, emotion and sensory experience by pulling us into something in the realm of awe or what one might call a glimpse into the divine.

    But there are simple practices that help in similar ways, that one can choose consistently: being in a lake or ocean; taking a sauna and/or cold shower; exceptionally close time with children, or animals; immersing ourselves in our favorite music, or dance; grateful recollections of our best moments with those we love…

    All of the above does enact a fundamental pattern to get to, which I’ve tried to address here in sequential order, starting with Cultivating Great Character (choosing to take “evermore control of our destiny”) to Universal Quest (following our intrinsic values) to Leaning into Art (crossing barriers to get to that which we find most compelling and beautiful) to, finally, full immersion. Versions of this pattern can be realized any and every day of our lives (and in a very short period of time once you get used to it).

    On creativity, “that changes the imposing opinion I held that creation was the only way to find worth in life”… It’s very difficult to be creative when the intent is held as obligation or demand. One has to first find internal freedom – through some form of the above examples or something similar – to clear out the uncreative thoughts and emotions that usually run the show. But I’d also say that creation, actually engaging a specific situation in an unusually effective, original way, can be practiced in the most simple circumstances, even a brief conversation with someone you just met, or how one designs a day or an hour, or what one looks at and how one breathes while in a cafe or garden. The point being that it is in the smallest moments and how we engage them that sets a precedence for how we take on larger projects or issues that mean more to us. We get used to the challenge, and larger ones become less intimidating or confusing. I’ve also found it helpful to place oneself in proximity to those who are truly creative, people who are gifted at surprising in inspiring ways – and lean into how they go about that, observe, ask questions, whatever.

    But let me end with a brief return to the more significant phrase here:
    Our best and happiest moments in life, if we recall, are always some form of immersion.

  5. J.R. says:

    I notice myself reflecting on Einstein and Marie Curie often while reading your Immersion post, recalling quotes and conversations about them in your last posts. It seems to me you’re offering numerous resplendent angles into what made them what they were, what contributed to their greatness past the commonly understood – what may have practically been day to day choices they made. I love the idea of these choices over time leading to discoveries in their work… Since I first read it days ago, this post has continued weaving through my waking consciousness, and I notice a growing curiosity and deep comfort coming from it.

    Spending time learning about Suzuki has been illuminating. How interesting to read his quotes and realize what an impact he had on your work. What a visceral, immediate reminder of some of the magic experienced in an event:

    “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.

  6. R. says:

    Thanks for your addition here Darrell. Re-being adversarial, I think for me it is more about the disappointment with myself when noticing bad habits later and that I could have chosen a superior choice (spend my time more wisely, although I’m much more able to catch myself if I feel like I’m slipping in the “lost soul” territory or just being lazy.) and being emotionally upset for making a poor choice. It is easy enough to drift away in a current of bad habits and not even noticing… I can see a more balanced and softer approach ( mostly in the way that I talk to myself) if I accept that I’m on a journey and doing my best to evolve and being more aware.

    I like this idea of mini immersions and this realisation that we could all be so much more creative at how we design our hours, days. Maybe that could also start with creating some new (or reviving old) simple rituals and maintaining them through time.

    I would also like to add that your last 4 posts have been truly incredible, each one leading to the next and it felt very much like 4 movements of a symphony, revealing the full rich and complex picture of your creative ideas and thoughts. It felt pretty cool not unlike the immersion I had the luck to experience recently playing Beethoven Symphony 1 and 2 with a live orchestra…

    I also like this idea that the dance of those 4 movements can: “Versions of this pattern can be realized any and every day of our lives (and in a very short period of time once you get used to it)”.

    and yes let’s start with small steps:

    “The point being that it is in the smallest moments and how we engage them that sets a precedence for how we take on larger projects or issues that mean more to us. We get used to the challenge, and larger ones become less intimidating or confusing”.

  7. J.R. says:

    On a trip to the Pacific Northwest, I accidentally happened upon a national park on Eel Lake – one of the main spawning locations for the Coho salmon in Oregon. Exploring their habitat and information available, I learned they return to this same lake up to 10 years later using their built-in compass, sense of smell (one trillionth to a part) and the stars to navigate… which is interesting to ponder In tandem with this post. I wanted to share my deep gratitude for the wisdom you’ve shared here with us, again, and food for contemplation. Also, my gratitude for the consistently enlivening and moving comments.

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