Dear Donagh,

Nearly every Wednesday I go to a meditation group that meets in a house down the road from me…. Someone always gives a short talk at the start.  But no matter what they talk about, they always hit on here and now.  It’s a featureless room with ugly wallpaper, and as I listen to them I often think of places I'd rather be.  Of course I wouldn’t say that to them, and they are really nice people.  But maybe you can explain to me how we can say Here is the best place, and Now is the best time, when we know they are not, at least not in any obvious way.  Seamus

Dear Seamus,

We’re not always lucky enough to be in places that are to our liking; nor is everything timed for our convenience.  So we just have to put up with what we have here and now. 

But to put it that way is very defeatist.  You will need to be positive-minded.  Tell yourself that what you have here and now is the only thing you have.  On his deathbed in Paris, Oscar Wilde famously said about the wallpaper in the room, “One of us has to go.”  If you are going to persevere with that meditation group, Seamus, you need to make peace with that wallpaper.

I think the best thing I could do here is to insert the text of a short talk I gave to a Zen group a while ago.  It bears directly on this point.  Here it is.

I was sitting one morning in the reading room of the Priory  library, struggling to read through an abstruse article in a philosophical journal.  The writer appeared to be avoiding clarity at all costs; as soon as a thought began to show itself, he would make it disappear under a stratum of qualifications and side-references.  He was difficult company, and by and by my mind began to drift away….

I imagined a forest…. In imagination all forests are beautiful.  Trees stood silently on all sides, revealing themselves with perfect clarity, hiding nothing, pretending nothing, holding nothing back, standing undisguised in the full truth of themselves.  I have long been enchanted by trees, and I often go in the early morning and just stand among them.  They embody meditation and teach me how to do the same.  I wish I were among them now, instead of struggling with this tormenting article….

I put it aside and my eyes rest on the floor.  After a moment I am aware that it is a wooden floor, and has been lying here for more than a hundred years.  It is a forest!  These boards are trees that grew, long ago, year by year, from saplings to their full stature.  They experienced the changing of the seasons long before I was born.  The story of those long-gone seasons is remembered in the grain….  Then I see the great mahogany table.  It too is part of the forest.  Then the grandfather clock… the bookshelves… the picture-frames…. I am in the middle of a forest!  The books!  The journals, the magazines…. Everything around me is forest.  I don’t need to imagine a forest far away, this is a real forest, made of real wood – not thoughts or fantasies.  I don’t need to go away, everything is here. 

Is it even possible to go away?  Yes it’s true that imagination can seem to take us far away, but we remain here all the while, dreaming.  The only place that can be real for me is here.  Everywhere I exist bodily is here.  Here is the only place I get anything substantial.  And everything I really need to live in this very moment is already here.  This awareness helps me to settle when I sit in meditation. 

What do I want to say now to that tortured philosopher?  The mind can seem profound because it keeps digging forever.  But very often it is digging up the secret roots of things.  You need to live by your heart.  It takes a heart to let things be, to love them and let them be.  They are not instances of a thought, they are epiphanies of what lies too deep for lectures and articles.  Turn away.  Give up searching for what is not lost.  Roots are not for digging up but for sinking down into.  Down into.   

That's it, Seamus.  There was a similar theme (also a Zen talk) in March’s ‘Between Ourselves’. 

I hope this is of some help to you, Seamus.


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