Monday, June 26, 2023

Turning Words and Moments

    In Zen, a 'turning word' is a phrase from an awakened teacher to help prompt awakening in a student, already on the verge of awakening. Everything hinges on our readiness to hear or see what's 'hidden in plain sight.' And then, we may, at least briefly, pass through the 'diaphanous veil' or 'gateless gate' between heaven and earth.      

“And I have felt a presence that disturbs me with
the joy of elevated thoughts;
a sense sublime of something far more deeply interfused,
whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
and the round ocean and the living air,
and the blue sky, and in the mind of man;
a motion and a spirit that impels all thinking things,
all objects of thought,
and rolls through all things."
William Wordsworth, 'Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey'

    Below are the closing paragraphs of Thomas Merton's book ‘New Seeds of Contemplation,’ which James Finley considers worthy of repeatedly quoting. In it, Merton lists several turning moments, if you will, 'ordinary miracles' we all encounter from time to time. (NOTE Merton referred to God exclusively as ‘He’ because in the 50s & 60s they didn't know better.)

    “What is serious to us is often very trivial in the sight of God. What in God might appear to us as ‘play’ is perhaps what He Himself takes most seriously. At any rate the Lord plays and diverts Himself in the garden of His creation, and if we could let go of our own obsession with what we think is the meaning of it all, we might be able to hear His call and follow Him in His mysterious, cosmic dance. We do not have to go very far to catch echoes of that game, and of that dancing. When we are alone on a starlit night; when by chance we see the migrating birds in autumn descending on a grove of junipers to rest and eat; when we see children in a moment when they are really children; when we know love in our own hearts; or when, like the Japanese poet Basho we hear an old frog land in a quiet pond with a solitary splash – at such times the awakening, the turning inside out of all values, the ’newness,’ the emptiness and the purity of vision that make themselves evident, provide a glimpse of the cosmic dance.
    For the world and time are the dance of the Lord in emptiness. The silence of the spheres is the music of a wedding feast. The more we persist in misunderstanding the phenomena of life, the more we analyze them out into strange finalities and complex purposes of our own, the more we involve ourselves in sadness, absurdity and despair. But it does not matter much, because no despair of ours can alter the reality of things, or stain the joy of the cosmic dance which is always there. Indeed, we are in the midst of it, and it is in the midst of us, for it beats in our very blood, whether we want it to or not.
    Yet the fact remains that we are invited to forget ourselves on purpose, cast our awful solemnity to the winds and join in the general dance.

    Thomas Merton. “New Seeds of Contemplation” New Directions, 1961.

    James Finley's commentary on the above:
    “The passage invites us to see how life is such that, from time to time, an extraordinary thing happens. We’re going along ruminating over this and that, when in something as simple as turning to see a flock of birds descending, or in something as simple as watching children at play, where something as intimate as knowing love in our own hearts, we’re interiorly quickened, we’re interiorly awakened to a deep visceral realization that this is holy, that this is real, that this is precious, that this is the way that every moment, deep down really is. These are moments that disclose to us the inherent holiness of life itself, the already perfectly holy nature of the present moment, just the way it is.
    It seems then to me, that by taking these moments and reflecting on them deeply, they can provide for us a way of beginning to understand what it means to live a contemplative way of life in the midst of today’s world. What it would be like, if we could only learn to walk around this aware all the time, of what our life always is. That is, what would it mean to walk into a room, and instantly become aware of the inherent holiness of everything that’s there, and to interiorly reverence it, and to honor it, and to be faithful to it?

    James Finley, “Thomas Merton's Path to the Palace of Nowhere. The Essential Guide to the Contemplative Teachings of Thomas Merton.” Sounds True, 2014. (9h 34m Audiobook - also available from the Halifax Public library via the free app Hoopla) EXCELLENT

    “Pay attention to the world around you, to the leaves and the flowers, to the birds and the rain. If you can stop and look deeply, you will recognize your beloved manifesting again and again in many forms.” Thich Nhat Hanh

    “When we trust with our open heart, whatever occurs, at that very moment that it occurs, can be perceived as fresh & unstained by the clouds of hope & fear.”
Dr. Jeremy Hayward


"The Three Sisters" Ballachulish - Glencoe - Scotland


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