Now you see it, now you don’t. Peek a boo. Momentarily I think understand it. For just a second everything comes into place, into focus, into the zone. I don’t have to wait for the moment to disappear. It is already gone.
A friend of mine lived for a short time as an aspiring monastic at SF Zen Center. He invited me there on Sundays sometimes. This particular Sunday, after service and sit, we went up to the open-air courtyard on top floor on a gloriously sunny and mildly crisp midday. Stout planters dotted the cement patio; flowering beds and a tree or two were in flourish. If you know that building, you know the view out in San Francisco. As I stood there, admiring the view, a butterfly (well, a cabbage moth, but still) lighted upon my nose. It lingered there, before my crossed eyes, a few long wingbeats. In many ways, there has been no other moment before or since. This was the moment.
Even in the moment, was the presence of heart-breaking human involvement. “What does this mean? What should I do?” And even “How will I ever top this?” Delight was mixed with attempts to make the experience into the “more” we are all searching for. There was, of course, nothing to do. Improbable joy and wonder are best served as an austerity, like a scoldingly proper Zen sit: “Nothing extra.”
Peek a boo. The infant learns joy through understanding abandonment and reattachment, improbably as a delightful game. After all, it’s the toughest lesson of all. Beyond the development of cognitive and emotional regulation the lesson goes on and on in all the ways our lives manifest. What we see, and then is taken away. What is desired to be seen and is never in full view. What we want to see that falls into dark mystery.
Sometimes, we choose to die. To no longer ride the roller coaster of manifestation and disappearance. All the snatching of breaths, desires, views. Plucked right out of our chest as the screaming metal open-air car careens around another turn, and our stomachs and hearts lurch out of our body, and then are snapped back in. For a moment. Before the next high velocity hair pin turn.
We try to apply ethical norms as a gaining idea for a full stop.
Prometheus, the god of forethought; Epimethean, the god of hindsight. They seem to give judicious guidance in a ponderous old-man-wise sort of way. The future moment should be like this. The past moment should be like that. As with all overreaching administrative regulatory bodies far from the real action they miss what is going on. Yet, a collective human chorus agrees in a coma of trauma, heedlessly crying: “These judges are the laws of Nature, Darwin, Man, Cosmos.” It is a harsh and hard evaluation of the superficial.
At this moment, I feel into the vision of an immensely old, rough grey slab of hardened stone, wavering in time, as the rest of all the living world pounds down against the causes of suffering, meeting only resistance. How do we resolve this life? Where all of agonized existence suffers even more by striving to punch through only the material surface of things for relief? What morals give balm?
There are no ethics without the body. There is no body without love for the body. There is no love for the body without listening to every moment’s sense of what can be given and what must be received. What must be sought and what must be fed. What must die, and what must be saved.
The balance is ever unstruck as the influence of some new demand tips the scales in all the roller coaster boats, sloshing all our arrangements in unanticipated directions that will not be undone by too much thinking. The roller coaster, which is itself also unsubstantial, calls the shots.
Peek a boo.
Mercy is not yet revealed in the suffering body of all sentience. Mercy arises from our inner cellular vision and voice when we choose to peek, to listen. At best, mercy will come and go. That in itself tests mercy to its limits. We will extend, and we will contract. We will rise, and we will fall. We will connect, and we will find the despair of disconnection at the very center of that which we hold most dear. It is no wonder we wish to die. But the body will bring us along into living and in our confraternity/sorority with other bodies there will be much to embrace. Peek a boo. I see you.