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Posts Tagged ‘Zen Buddhism’

c. Susan Sorrell Hill

The Illustration Friday word of the week is stir.

Suspect figures and footages aside…life on Planet Earth does seem to be getting more and more surreal. Even for those not habitually sensitized by the evening news, the headlines can be alarming. Political, geological and man-made catastrophes press in. Wars, economic threats and increasing moral, heath and food issues are evident everywhere we turn. Specters walk the land. Dragons stir and come too close to home. Old ways are crumbling.

You may think, at first, that what I write next is unrelated to the previous paragraph, but if the following thoughts do not immediately resonate with you, at least let them lie as a seed in the back of your mind…

A while back, I became aware of a quiet, insistent voice which whispered (often in the middle of the night), “Remember who you are.” I took this as a personal nudge and made some external changes, but the voice continued. Recently this inner directive was joined by the whispered question, “Is this Real?” I interpret this inner question…and then also the first directive…to be referring to A Course in Miracles’s definition of what is Real. This question of what reality really is remains–to my mind–far more pressing than black and white headlines. To the casual observer, it might look like burying one’s head in the sand, but I am encouraged by these words from A Course in Miracles:

“Nothing real can be threatened. Nothing unreal exists. Herein lies the peace of God.”

Three lines, no big words. Almost poetry… or a koan. But I am beginning to feel that the answer to every dark thing in life lies behind these fourteen words…

On the same subject, but with humor, I leave you with this tale by the late Dutch novelist, Janwillem van de Wetering, who was strongly influenced by an interest in Zen Buddhism

“You are eight years old. It is Sunday evening. You have been granted an extra hour before bed. The family is playing Monopoly. You have been told that you are big enough to join them. You lose. You are losing continuously. Your stomach cramps with fear. Nearly all your possessions are gone. The money pile in front of you is almost gone. Your brothers are snatching all the houses from your streets. The last street is being sold. You have to give in. You have lost. And suddenly you know that it is only a game. You jump up with joy and you knock the big lamp over. It falls on the floor and drags the teapot with it. The others are angry with you, but you laugh when you go upstairs. You know you are nothing and know you have nothing. And you know that not-to-be and not-to-have give immeasurable freedom.

Next week the Anniversary Giveaway contest begins.

“Night Guidance” (oil on canvas)

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c. Susan Sorrell Hill

The Illustration Friday word of the week is prehistoric.

I could never relate to the friends who became parents and then for ever after chronicled History by the ages and activities of their children. Casually prefaced sentences with preambles like, “When Johnny was a baby…” or, “The year that Sally got her braces…”, left me feeling like an outsider among members of a secret and widespread club.

But then I realized that I had my own internal time-keeping method, even though I was not a mother. Mine went more like, “When I was with Alfred…or Louie…or Rupert…” (Names changed to protect the innocent.) Beyond my school years, I realized, I chronicled the eras of my life by the particular relationships I was in at the time. Not so different, really.

The idea of defining one’s self by a patchwork of prehistoric and external activities or relationships, though, got me thinking. Who was I without them? Who am I, separate from the myriad forms of outer description: wife-of…works-for…rents-from…member-of…body-type-like…ex-girlfriend-of…draws-like…etc., etc.? Who am I, first thing in the morning as consciousness returns, but before the definitions return to clothe me more tightly than a spandex leotard? Who am I without my face?

The Buddhists have always written extensively about that big question, and Zen Buddhism is perhaps the most accessible entry into this area of contemplation. They refer to it as the Original Face, and it originates in the following koan: “What did your face look like before your parents were born?”

You cannot describe it or draw it,
You cannot praise it enough or perceive it.
No place can be found in which
To put the Original Face;
It will not disappear even
When the universe is destroyed.
— Mumon

My original face is That which observes ‘the little me’…sitting here in this wicker chair, warmed by a wood stove and peppermint tea, typing. I don’t know what That is yet…but I am beginning to understand what it is not…

“Frankenstein” (pen & ink)   Illustration for a hospital advertisement: “Endoscopic surgery. Because not everyone can live with another scar.”

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