“…what I like doing best is Nothing.”
“How do you do Nothing?” asked Pooh, after he had
wondered for a long time.
“Well, it’s when people call out at you just as you’re
going off to do it ‘What are you going to do, Christopher
Robin?’ and you say ‘Oh, nothing,’ and then you go and do it.”
“Oh, I see,” said Pooh.
“This is a nothing sort of thing that we’re doing now.”
“Oh, I see,” said Pooh again.
“It means just going along, listening to all the things
you can’t hear, and not bothering.”
“Oh!” said Pooh.
Listening is the most dangerous thing of all, listening means knowing, finding out about something and knowing what’s going on, our ears don’t have lids that can instinctively close against the words uttered, they can’t hide from what they sense they’re about to hear, it’s always too late.
I honestly think in order to be a writer, you have to learn to be reverent. If not, why are you writing? Why are you here? Let’s think of reverence as awe, as presence in and openness to the world. The alternative is that we stultify, we shut down. Think of those times when you’ve read prose or poetry that is presented in such a way that you have a fleeting sense of being startled by beauty or insight, by a glimpse into someone’s soul. All of a sudden everything seems to fit together or at least to have some meaning for a moment. This is our goal as writers, I think; to help others have this sense of — please forgive me — wonder, of seeing things anew, things that can catch us off guard, that break in on our small, bordered worlds.
―Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
Anyone who has undertaken a long journey can attest that many of the challenges encountered along the way were internal. When faced with extended travel and exploration, we reach a point at which we want to quit, to give up, to go home before it is time. Outer circumstances, such as weather and other forces of nature, illness, our fellow travelers or any number of unforeseen or expected roadblocks, help uncover our personal strengths and weaknesses and throw us into conflicts that help us recognize who we are. It is the response we make to these challenges, based on our talents and limitations, that determines our survival, the weight of our experiences and what, if anything, we learn. That doesn’t mean that we can’t surprise ourselves; there are plenty of colors waiting inside us that we don’t yet recognize.
Expectation is my latest painting. For me it reflects that the outside world is colored by our perceptions. That which we find in ourselves we will find in the world around us and vice versa.
Not all journeys are physical, but all journeys happen within our minds. Travel requires that we be open to experience, vulnerable to the fact that what we know is incomplete and inaccurate even as we recognize our beliefs as our own best attempt. We cannot see anything until we are ready to see it, nor can we believe anything until we are ready to believe it.
The more colors we can realize and recognize, the more chance we have to broaden and enlarge our fragile visions and discover common ground. We may find echoes of these colors in other people and in the natural and spiritual world around us. This is synchronicity.
The Japanese tea ceremony, cha-no-yu, and tea garden, roji, evolved from traditions and tea from China. The Buddhist monk Eichū was the first person acknowledged to celebrate the ceremony in Japan during the 9th Century, after returning from a trip to the mainland, where tea had been known for many centuries. It was seen as an enlightened and civilized practice and developed deep spiritual significance.
The word roji has its origin in characters that mean “path”, “ground” and “dewiness”. It came to be used as a term for the area that lies between the main house and the chashitsu, the room or house where the tea ceremony is performed. Guests do not only pass through the roji, but use the area to prepare their minds, spirits and bodies before the host invites them inside the tea house. Thus the roji is not only a physical path, but a spiritual one.
Over time, the roji became a garden. Ideally, it provides an elegant and yet simple scene, a backdrop to a ceremony of solemnity and beauty. The roji includes a tsukubai, or ablution basin, where visitors wash away the dust of the outside world by performing a ritual hand washing and rinsing of the mouth.
A tōrō, or lantern, stands in the garden. Stepping stones, tob-ishi, lead to the tea house, which is often behind a wicket gate. The stones are laid out in a simple and naturalistic manner, sometimes alternating right and left to facilitate walking.
Tōrō at Shukkei-en Garden, Hiroshima Public Domain Image
Some roji feature ginshanada, areas of gravel or white sand that, among other things, symbolize openness to experience and the changeable nature of life. These “empty” spaces may be raked into patterns made during contemplation or left pristine. Typically the tob-ishi path will cross through the ginshanada. The raked patterns often recall water ripples, just as the ginshanada are reminiscent of lakes or streams. This style is known as karesansui, or rock gardening, but many westerners refer to it as Zen gardening, pointing to its origins in Buddhist meditative practice.
Roji at Zuiho-in Temple, Kyoto, founded 1535 by Otomo Sorin, who later converted to Christianity. Public Domain Image
Garden plantings are simple and emphasize form and texture rather than color, most often eschewing flowers for evergreens, mosses and grasses. Ume, plum trees, and maples may be included and do provide some color. As opposed to many western gardens, where plants are trimmed to produce blooms, plants here are cultivated for healthy foliage and beautiful shape. The goal is to achieve a sculpted and yet natural look that does not draw attention to itself, but encourages the contemplation of good things.
When I enter a space like the roji, my mind rests from “being productive” or flowering. I become aware of the invaluable beauty of health and enjoy simply being present. I can also appreciate the work that must be done to keep the space orderly and functional. We don’t all have space or time for physical gardens, but we do require some open space in ourselves for quietness and preparation in order to keep our inner selves from being suffocated. In that sense we are all gardeners. What is it that you cultivate in your life?
I knew that in the silence that followed, that anything could happen here. It might be too late again. I might have missed my chance. But I would at least know I tried, that I took my heart and extended my hand, whatever the outcome.
Surely there is grandeur in knowing that in the realm of thought, at least, you are without a chain; that you have the right to explore all heights and depths; that there are no walls nor fences, nor prohibited places, nor sacred corners in all the vast expanse of thought…