Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Without Wine Or Good Bread

Between the Mundane and the Magical
There is a term in the Celtic tradition that I find resonates with something fundamental about Zen practice. The Celts spoke of "thin places," places like caves or wells or other special sites where the boundary between the mundane and magical was permeable. To me, Zen practice offers a kind of thin place, a "place" where we can discover that there is fundamentally no separation between ourselves and others, that what we seek is always so close, always right here.
--Roshi Pat Enkyo O'Hara, tricycle, An Introduction to Zen (Spring 2009)

When I came across the O'Hara quote, I found myself rising to it as if it floated in mid air calling to me. The meeting of the magical and the spiritual and the mundane in special locations is an important part of my practice. Without having a clue how you should go about it, I nevertheless recommend getting one or more power points on the planet, places that are thin in this sense. It is helpful to know you can access the power in some sense, that you know where the thin places are. In my experience it seems unnecessary to make a big thing of the thin places. They are conduits and the flow takes care of itself because there are two features to the flow: the stream of power and the stream of destiny (intelligence and communication).

Without knowing I was doing so, I constructed access to one on the Willamette River in 1991. I had a work assignment as a construction coordinator on a project I had designed and drafted. As they built the testing facility, I was constructing a spiritual connection to Willamette Falls. As I finished my assignment there, I realized what had happened for me. It is gone now but it served through the nineties. I could stand on the Oregon City side of the Willamette at the Falls and look at what I had done. I had constructed a personal shrine in a thin place on the planet, a holy place as all the locals of the First Nations can tell you. Willamette Falls is a thin place. I could drive past it as I did daily and feel the surge. The Nineties were dark days for me as my marriage came undone, as I watched my wife fail and finally die in 2001, as my future disappeared in all recognizable forms. One aspect of my survival in this terrible passage was that I did not have to buttress things using only my own power. I could rely on Higher Power. I knew where one gateway in the flow of power and destiny was.

These days the power flows in part from the buried treasure beneath the dogwood in my front yard. A squirrel consecrated this spot as I watched one day, and I have thanked him since for showing me a thin place. You would know Sir Squirrel (perhaps Lady Squirrel as I don’t tell them apart) to be a remarkably bold creature. His presence on the ground for as long as that ceremonial burial took was a feat if you knew how many cats call my neighborhood home. Cats love playing with squirrels.

Without Wine Or Good Bread

How is it with me
today of all days after
all that has happened?

What on earth could I
say now that I haven't said
before a dozen
ways, more than that, so
intent am I on speaking
my tattered truth out
to you all?

I am

The sublime
comes direct to my spirit
with me just passed by.
I am in empty
space, without wine or good bread
but I'm used to it.

June 21, 2009 8:15 AM


  1. this is very beautiful. thank you.

  2. I was shouting out through your introduction that the thin places are in nature. I was so relieved that that seems to be your experience, too.

    This is related to the gaps that you spoke of months ago, isn't it? I rely on these places, or these experiences, to catch me from falling into an abyss of non-understanding. They give me form, and more importantly, hope. And perhaps not hope exactly, but somehow something closer to the truth. Yes, that, they simply allow me to be in the presence of the truth. Not to say that I understand the truth, but I can feel it in the same room with me and that is enough.

    I would have thought, a few years ago, to have read any of this that I write now, I'd have thought I was a little fried to mental. I feel more balanced than ever. (And yet I toss and turn, but I am fortunate for moments.)

    I need need need the oscillation between ordinary and magic. It is a venn diagram. I long for the inbetween.


  3. Jarvenpa, I am pleased you left a comment. You are always welcome.

    Erin, I find the gaps around every corner, out of the corner of my eye, in the periphery of things, lurking near, never that far, but they require calling out. That is accomplished far more easily in the thin places. The thin places permit shape changing. What takes major effort anywhere else - in the thin places might happen almost by accident. The relationship is that the thin places can easily call the gaps forth into high relief.

    The basic gap on which this is all built is the span in the cycle of your presence on the planet, the span where you are not here, poised to return. This occurs in the core of each split second that passes. The powers from elsewhere enter there. So do you in so far as your core is also a presence from elsewhere. Continuity is thus in some real sense illusory. Impermanence rests on the gapping in everything, or as the quantum physicists will tell you, everything is discrete but indeterminate. Here, not here, here again. Zen says, first there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is.

  4. I add, sound, no sound, sound again. The rhythms possible to express these changing shapes of sound form the foundation of music. Thus the music relies on the relative gaps in it as much as anything else. It is this which informs us that music speaks the truth rather than elaborate fantasy.

  5. I wonder then if the rest of art can be viewed the same way, photography with it's balance between white spaces and dark, black and white photography especially reducing things to a clearer truth, or writing even. I see it with good and honest writing. Or any art for that matter. And isn't art plugged directly into the truth, good and revealing art? And isn't that why we don't actually make the art, but just act as conduits, revealing it as it comes through thin layers or gaps?

    I got excited by your music proposition. I wondered if you believed it went further?


  6. Erin, I haven't thought that deeply, trying to tie all of it down so my reply is off the cuff. Do not rely on this.

    I believe that space-time has space like and time like components that interact but are not the same, that this is quite obvious and why it took a genius like Einstein (and a few others who did not succeed in spreading the idea) to marry them together in the first place. The gaps are in the timing, not in the "spacing", or rather more clearly, the gaps in space seem to have less to do with the heart of things, or you might say the gaps in time are the depth gaps, the "vertical" component while the breadth gaps in space are the "horizontal" component.

    I am not at all sure of that. As I say, off the cuff. Music is the art of time. There are other frames of artistic reference that rely on time as much or more than space. Narratives and poesy are mainly time like in that they are linear and gather body in their evocations, why you have to place the words in a precise order. The magic of spells also are time like.

    The thrust of time like depth is of a different nature than the massing of mountainous space like momentum or even the delicate tracery of webs of space like meaning. A painting "spreads out" in this way, while a musical performance broadens in quite another. While it is true in our Einstein's universe that these manifestations are indelibly married now, that is like saying the surface requires the inner depth within it to be a surface, and the inner depth must be contained to be at all.

    Thus the space like arts imply the gaps rather than directly producing them. However, this also gives rise to the fact that while you can record music effectively, there is no substitute for an actual live performance, which completes the totality of things, or also why music is more for musicians who perform it than anyone else. That gathers time and space together, and in group music becomes a manifestation of expressed love as well, no matter the intended theme.

    Musicians have trouble holding groups together in the non music parts of their lives far more than in the performances.

    So to me the "further" that you seek goes somewhere in that direction perhaps.


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