Sunday, February 20, 2011

Blossoms and Snow

One reason I was drawn to what you might call Buddhist philosophy for want of a better word, was that it cut through the absolute, while I always found Western thinking and writing to be circling frustratingly, and frustratedly, around it. But of course I find ample examples where the two approaches align around making sense of the human condition. Reading in the New Yorker about George Eliot (reminding me that I read 'Middlemarch' while crossing Europe in trains at the age of eighteen - having got through 'Pride and Prejudice' before I reached Paris, in the days before the Eurostar, I was glad to have something with a little more heft), the following two sections struck me: the writer of the article outlines "a notion that is at the center of much of Eliot's work: that individuals must make their best efforts toward a worthy end, but it is the effort toward a goal, rather than the achievement of it, that makes us who we are". And this: "In response to the enthusiastic reception of the first volume of 'Middlemarch', Eliot wrote, 'Hardly anything could have happened to me which I could regard as a greater blessing than this growth of my spiritual existence when my bodily existence is decaying. The merely egoistic satisfactions of fame are easily nullified by toothache, and that has been my chief consciousness for the last week'".

Our full week is done now. We had our Full Moon Ceremony on Friday morning, and a one-day sitting yesterday, neither of which I feel I have anything interesting to say about. Yesterday we finished with a shosan where Michael, Great Dragon, made quick work of people's stuck thinking, turning over concepts with a phrase, and in one case, a great shout.

In the realm of changes, California winter weather rarely disappoints. I have overused these past ten years the line 'rough winds do shake the darling buds of February' in writing to my family. A fortnight ago, we were basking in eighty degree weather; last weekend I was taking pictures of the crowds in the sun at Crissy Fields, and wishing I had taken my camera for the sunlit blossoms at Green Gulch. Today the happy crowds were up on Mt Tam, where the soaking of the last week left snow on the ground on the upper slopes. When I went out on my bike this morning, glad that the skies had cleared, I soon realised that I just had to go and pay it a visit. Luckily the higher roads were closed to cars, so there were just hikers and cyclists out testing their grip, along with the deer and coyotes - I thought of going to the summit, but ice on the road by the amphitheatre made that seem like a bad idea. It was wonderfully liberating to be out there with the quiet of the snow, with the familiar feeling of flatness once you descend to where the ground is bare. This snow will be even more fleeting than the blossoms.

The snow on Mount Tam reflecting the rising sun, as seen from the roof


Anonymous said...

I am coming late to this blog and it warms my heart to see a reference to George Eliot so I feel moved to respond. I dip into Middlemarch on a regular basis - and I too remember reading it one summer when I was 19 or 20-ish as part of my degree course and not wanting it to come to an end because the lives of the people and the places that she had created seemed so palpable.

What resonates for me now is that she described people in relationship to others and to their setting, and so creates for me an embodied sense of non-separation: we are who we are, and as we are, in relation to others and to place and are in a constant dynamic of change within these relationships. She recognised that we live in a relational world while others were still thinking about one-person psychology.

Have you read Daniel Deronda? That is even more powerful, I think, in the exploration of the extremes of human behaviour and the relational impact of both 'good' and 'bad'. Plenty of greed, hate and delusion, counter-balanced with integrity, generosity and compassion.

Shundo said...

Thank you for leaving this comment, and I am happy that you are reading back over old stuff. I should love to have the time to read Middlemarch again, and I never did try Daniel Deronda - I was usually knee-deep in French novels at college, and these days it is hard to carve that kind of time out in my schedule.