Thursday, March 12, 2009

When the Mundane Becomes Extraordinary

Close up view of Canadian "snake fence" at Ravenseyrie

D.T. Suzuki's
book, An Introduction to Zen Buddhism (first published in 1934) is considered a classic primer for Westerners desiring to learn a bit about this distinctly Eastern philosophy. Today's journal entry offers readers this excerpt from the chapter titled Practical Zen:

A Confucian scholar writes, "They seek the truth too far away from themselves, while it is right near them." The same thing may be said of Zen. We look for its secrets where they are most unlikely to be found, that is, in verbal abstractions and metaphysical subtleties, whereas the truth of Zen really lies in the concrete things of our daily life. A monk asked the master: "It is some time since I came to you to be instructed in the holy path of the Buddha, but you have never given me even an inkling of it. I pray you to be more sympathetic." To this the following answer was given: "What do you mean, my son? Every morning you salute me, and do I not return it? When you bring me a cup of tea, do I not accept it and enjoy drinking it? Besides this, what more instructions do you desire from me?"
Is this Zen? Is this the kind of life-experience Zen wants us to have? A Zen poet sings, "How wondrously strange, and how miraculous this! I draw water, I carry fuel."...
...Do these examples make the subject in hand any clearer or more intelligible than before? I can multiply such instances indefinitely, but those so far cited may suffice to show that Zen is after all not a very complicated affair, or a study requiring the highest faculty of abstraction and speculation. The truth and power of Zen consists in its very simplicity, directness and utmost practicalness. "Good morning; how are you today?" "Thank you, I am well" --here is Zen. "Please have a cup of tea" --this, again is full of Zen. When a hungry monk at work heard the dinner-gong he immediately dropped his work and showed himself in the dining-room. The master, seeing him, laughed heartily, for the monk had been acting Zen to its fullest extent. Nothing could be more natural; the one thing needful is just to open one's eye to the significance of it all.

The Adorable Australian Shepherd/Blue Heeler pooch, Shelagh

It may perhaps be easier to "open one's eye to the significance of it all" living here on Manitoulin Island...(although certainly there are many living and working here who unwittingly nurture chaos in their day to day routines as much as the city-dwellers of Toronto)...yet, undeniably, there is an energy vibrating here that lends itself to experiencing that which is typically mundane as something much more extraordinary.

Surely, Ravenseyrie, with its exposure to the elements and remote ruggedness makes it virtually impossible to be anywhere but in the "now". Sharing this land with the primitive Sorraia and Sorraia Mustangs, the two domestic horses and three draft mules enhances the sense of belonging that we might not otherwise have--somehow the way they have integrated themselves into the landscape provides us a portal to recognizing the miraculous in everyday occurrences.
Bella, a registered Spanish Mustang of fairly good Sorraia phenotype
One of the foundation mares of the Sorraia Mustang Preserve
Dam of the first half-Sorraia foal in Canada, Animado by the purebred Sorraia stallion, Altamiro

While many of you are seeing the emergence of early spring flowers, nourishing rains and transient mud, here at Ravenseyrie, we still have snow, ice and frigid temperatures (it was 3°F when we fed the herd breakfast this morning). So I am VERY grateful for the variety of enchantments that everyday occurrences here provide...such things keep a long hard winter from depressing the spirit.
Kevin says "hello" from the door of our humble east bluff home
The window on the left is the kitchen/dining area,
the window on the right is the living room
From here we have a spectacular view of Ravenseyrie

Would you like to see a few of these extraordinary elements captured by the camera over the past few days?

The pups and I walked over to see what condition the creek was in. The light was glorious, the snow glittering. and the creek flowed musically underneath compacted snow. We paused to admire...and it was then I noticed the shape of the opening was very much like a "cookie-cut-out" of Maeb!
Or from the opposite side, looking down on it, maybe it looks more like a feline shape? (No doubt you cat fanciers will think so!)

Here was have a bit of artwork discovered on the south side of the house, where the sun has managed to melt away most of the snow. This is the first area typically to "spring" to life, and our two geese have already been frequenting this warm retreat and leaving a sense of themselves for me to delight in discovering.

One morning, not too long after sun-up, while out walking with the pups, I noticed that our shadows were traveling well ahead of us and that they seemed to possess identities much different than our own. It seemed when I stopped to take a photo of these shadows the shadows had stopped to look back at us! The phrase "to shadow" means "to follow"...what does it mean then when one's shadow is leading the way?

I thought I would also share this photo because it rather caught me by surprise. I took this photo of Ciente eating her breakfast hay, I initially believed she was sharing it with her son, Interessado. It wasn't until after uploading the photo to the computer I realized that it was Belina's filly, Fada, who was breakfasting with Ciente. It is unusual for these two gals to be hanging out together.

On Monday, I was able to spend quite a bit of time among the herd grooming them and just generally going with the flow of their afternoon. Shelagh and Maeb found some unattended piles of hay and made themselves comfortable while I curried winter hair and detangled manes and tails.
After grooming Jerry, Dee, Altamiro, Doll, Belina, Zeus, Mistral and Zorita I needed to take a break, so I went and sat on a sun-warmed rock. First Mistral (who left his pile of hay!) came over and just stood facing me, with his muzzle warm on my face...within minutes his eyes were closed and he began making soft snoring noises. Doll then came up along side me with her left leg pressing my right shoulder. I began softly stroking her leg (much as I do when one of the dogs settle in next to me) and soon, she too was droopy-headed and dozy. The contrast of color between her rich chestnut coat and that potent, vibrant blue sky beckoned to be captured by the camera:Doll provided me not just with a special photo, but she also demonstrated that like Shelagh and Tobacco, once you begin petting or stroking them, if you stop doing this--even when it seems that they have fallen asleep--they will squint open their eyes and paw at you until you resume stroking them. Each time I would stop stroking Doll's leg, she would nuzzle my head or lap with her muzzle, stopping only once I began stroking her leg again. It felt so incredibly intimate and did we ever come to imagine that equines were rather unfeeling beasts of burden?

When the mundane becomes extraordinary, such insights into the higher meaning of things are abundant in my world, and stretch my mind to new ideas, new ways of being...

American artist, Georgia O'Keeffe was a prolific letter writer (in addition to being an avante-gard painter) and her entire life to me seemed to be an exclamation of joy of the magic abundant in simple things. In a letter to Anita Pollitzer (in 1917 prior to O'Keeffe's fame) she wrote, "I discovered that by running against the wind with a bunch of pine branches in your hand you could have the pine trees singing right in your ears."

I'll bet you can see, now, how "the truth of Zen really lies in the concrete things of our daily life"...May you recognize and enjoy the mundane made extraordinary in your own lives.

(Oh! and thank you to Sue for dropping by with a comment in the last entry of Journal of Ravenseyrie--it was a pleasure to learn a former islander is following along with this journal. When you come back to visit, for sure you can stop and meet the horses, whom you must already feel as if you know well.)


Annemiek said...

Hi Lynne,

Spring is just a heartbeat away here. I can smell it in the air, and I can hear it in the beautiful songs of the birds. This morning there was actually some sunshine and everyone hurried outside to work in their garden or just enjoy the weather. When I see your photo’s I think I understand your thoughts. You could spent your time whishing for spring to arrive and totally miss all those small wonders right in front of you. That would be such a shame, because they are wonders, like the image in the pond, the “geese prints” in the snow and the color contrast of Doll and the sky. I do think Ravenseyrie is a magical place, which absolutely inspires to enjoy those little wonders. But it also inspires me, here on the other side of the ocean, to enjoy every little wonder I stumble across, cause even here in this small and overcrowded country there are plenty, you just have to know where to look. That dear Lynne, is what you taught me, thank you!

Lynne Gerard said...

Annemiek, you always come up with the most heart-warming comments. Thank you for "getting" what my sometimes jumbled ramblings are meant to put across.

We are presently coming up above freezing during the day and dropping just below at night. This is "sugaring" weather and those who have the marvelous Sugar Maples in abundance are tapping trees and making that magical elixir Maple Syrup.

I've a few other signs of spring to share in the blog, in a new entry, maybe later today.

Thank you Annemiek, for your "across the ocean" friendship!