November 5, 2010

wrong the rights

Six Persimmons.”  “No, Five.”  “No, SIX.”  “FIVE.”  “The SIX Persimmons.”  “FIVE PERSIMMONS… and no ‘THE’!”

I was right. There were six. And, I was wrong. To even bother arguing about it. With a lover who was a gift and a wide-open door in my young life, no less. Oh, but I was the one who had taken the course on Asian Art.  I had studied this, the most revered ink painting in all of Zendom, in detail. I had oohed and aahed over those six perfectly imperfectly executed blobs of produce many times. The fact that the only thing worth meditating upon all this time, and all that this man was attempting to share with me, was Beauty… well, needless to say, I blew right past that on my way to Being Right.

Mu-Qi

In the wabi-sabi aesthetic of the Orient, beauty is found in the being a little wrong. A friend once told me that in Japan, when pottery breaks, they fill the crack not only with plaster, but also with gold dust, the better to call sparkling attention to that which is truly lovely about the piece. Its experience in many hands and many moments. Its ephemeral uniqueness. Its song in response to the accidents of life.

I was twenty-five. I was iconically insecure. I only understood love as an acquisition, even—and how ugly—as a competition.  I had not even begun to practice the humble spiritual disciplines that crack us, that open us if we keep practicing, that then make us loving and, only then, capable of love.  I wouldn’t have wanted to date me.

“There is a crack, a crack in everything.  That’s how the light gets in.”  Leonard Cohen sings what a master potter, or poet, or lover knows.  In Rainer Maria Rilke’s generous Letters To A Young Poet, the old Master exhorts his plaintive pen pal “… to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

Somehow, in the ending of that love affair, this book ended up in my hands. Somehow, it got through my young head that I had seriously fewer answers than questions, and that egocentrically seeking the “right” answers was not the right way to go. That I just had to go live my way into, not so much answers, but understandings. So, I continued to study Zen calligraphic art. I continued to paint. I continued to fall in love. All of these things kept telling me that I had a lot more to understand, and that all of my trying was going to have to paradigmatically shift if I were ever to get anything.

A 13th century monk named Mu Qi painted those six gorgeous persimmons in, likely, six minutes. What he did for years before that was meditate on how to not try, and not get, anything. He never trained himself to make beautiful marks. Rather, he trained his mind to just let beautiful happen. To just breathe beauty, rather than try to obtain it. To let the ink flow, not from his hands, but from the simple apprehension of the beauty of a persimmon… or five, or six, or any number of things on this earth. In this way, the ink is an accident, but a beautiful one for all of the practice that came before it, and therefore through it.

As I began to appreciate all of the preparations of the soul that must come before making any mark in this life, I first put the words “practiced” and “accident” together. I intuited that if any beauty were ever to grace my life, it could only flower from a very different energy than the energies that presently compelled me. ‘Tis not fun to admit being wrong, and I felt like I had about twenty-five years of admitting to do.  Seeing the opportunity, even the beauty, in feeling our way through being wrong was the first big answer I got right. Well, just got. Gotta let go of that “right” thing.

Oh, and ouch. There was no “The.”  Just “Six Persimmons.” Just… beautiful.

Categories: Art, Buddhism, Letters to a Young Poet, Six Persimmons, Zen

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