The following entry in my sporadic spiritual journal was made twelve days after the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings, with which I’d been failing to make even the most ragged peace. The slightly bastardized Ikkyū versions are based on Stephen Berg’s Crow with No Mouth (Copper Canyon).
I’m not complaining. In fact I want to praise You. But here’s the trick about You, me, and praise: every time I vanish into the Moment and feel how You took 10 million years to prepare a place for me, I’m flooded, as You come again, by a gratitude that drowns me. This same blissful drowning then causes a consciousness free-of-me to fly infinitely out, embracing everything, including things and events for which, once the drowning is over and a workaday me returns, I have no capacity to feel grateful at all. Which leads me to believe that I have never once really praised You. All of “my” praise, in my experience, was really You praising You via an abated or vanished me. Take the Moment just now, for instance:
Sitting at my April 28 Montana window (Old Finnish vindr-auga, “wind-eye”), reading the Zen poet Ikkyū and the sunlit world outside, I was moved by a matching beauty in words and world to close one eye, hold thumb and forefinger an inch apart, and frame the glowingly green tip of a newly leafed aspen tree. I wanted what hunters call a “peep sight” or pornographers a “peep show.” The vast, wind-wavered, backlit greenlit sunlit day was too much. Unable to countenance such boundless cause for gratitude, I chose instead to peep at a leafy green snippet of world. But as I was marveling in this edited way, perhaps preparing a twee thanks, out of my forefinger and into my tiny frame an entire bald eagle shot, then stayed, riding a ridge wind within the snippet of sky blue behind the glow of aspen green, soaring, impossibly regal, before vanishing into my thumb.
Stunned, and a bit scared to keep peeping through the finger and now-loaded thumb, I lowered my hand, deployed it merely to prop open Ikkyū, and resumed reading. But the first words I read were:
Men are like cows horses fuck poetry
Look at your hand and read it
I glanced around, nervous, then hid my too-potent hand behind the suddenly dangerous book, only to read:
I can change your life with a mere look
and and and when I looked through the wind-eye at the blue-green-aspen-sky-eagle place You’d prepared, then hidden in my thumb, the words, the world, You, and I fused and read:
We live in a cage of light an amazing cage
as here it shone, beauty splayed. Then we read:
I won’t die I won’t go away I’ll always be here
Nobody before me nobody after
Inside the koan clear mind gashes the great darkness
and “I” dropped the book, and at last read the hand, and it too was glowing and no more mine than aspen, sky, or eagle, and with and without me it rose to greet the insane joy gushing into the Moment, and again it framed, with thumb and forefinger, the infant aspen tip. Then inevitably, as buttercups open and honeybees awaken and supernovas implode and psychotics shoot children and terns and phalaropes return ten thousand miles from Tierra del Fuego, out of the forefinger, down through the blue, behind aspen greens, and into the thumb soared not one but two eagles. And O Infinite Naked Love of my blind and stupefied heart, for the Antarctic-feathered star-imploding trigger-pulling poetry-fucking buttercup of the Now, how we thank and fail to thank and thank and fail to thank and thank and fail to thank and thank You.