The “10, 000 things” is a shorthand way of talking about all the experiences – good and bad – which arise and pass away in our lifetime, continually in movement, with ebbs and flows. Eastern wisdom considered that they contain the right mix of experiences for our growth.
When the 10,000 things become one,
then we return to the center,
where we have always been.
Chuang-Tse, Chinese philosopher, 4th century BC
Another Saturday, another Mary Oliver poem:
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting-
over and over announcing your place
In the family of things.
Wild Geese, (extract)
Just flip the pages of anyone’s life book; get beneath the story line, and what do you notice? Changeability, the unpredictable, the unforeseen (good and bad): to recall that, brings forth faith – be open and alert. A human life is also marked by an ongoing quest to find fulfilment – which hasn’t quite arrived (and maybe isn’t even near). Seeing that brings attention back to the present: what do you really want, and where will that be found? It’s never in that ongoing flow of continuity that the Buddha called ‘becoming’ (bhava). What about if the mind stepped out of that, into the immediate openness of an awareness that isn’t craving or dreading becoming anything? When you even review that tide of “now I’m this and I should be that, and I might get there” you realize that this goes on irrespective of circumstance and identity. So there’s nothing intrinsically personal about this life book, and you don’t have to throw it away and get a better one. The advice is to study it from a different viewpoint: it’s written in personal handwriting, but bear in mind and take it to heart, that the marks of change/risk/unpredictability (anicca), of incompleteness and the unresolved (dukkha), and of impersonality (anatta) are universal marks. Through bearing these in mind, there can be a breakthrough to the unconditioned, the secure, the sorrowless, the place of peace. One can step out of the book.
Ajahn Sucitto, Lockdown Means Opening Up
The only true place of calm in a storm is the very center.
So the only thing to do, once in the storm, is to make our way to the center of it, hard as that may seem.
The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread
Their greenness is a kind of grief.
Is it that they are born again
and we grow old? No, they die too.
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.
Yet still unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.
When I want to summon strength and power in the midst of awfulness and hate, I contemplate water.
Our ideas of strength so often surround images of things that are hard — like rock or even a clenched fist. Perhaps that’s why we think love doesn’t include strength, just softness. We are thinking in only one dimension. That’s why I think of water, in all its manifestations. Look at the many ways we experience water: It trickles, spurts, floods, pours, streams, soaks, and shows itself in many more modes. All these convey evanescence, release, flow. They are all about not being stuck.
Water is flexible, taking the shape of whatever vessel it flows into. It’s always interacting, changing, in motion, yet revealing continual patterns of connection. Water can be so expressive, a signal of our most heartfelt feelings. We cry tears of sorrow, tears of outrage, tears of gratitude, and tears of joy. Water can be puzzling, seeming weak or ineffectual, yielding too much, not holding firm. And yet over time water will carve its own pathway, even through rock. And yes, water freezes. But it also melts.
Human beings have always found uplift and inspiration in metaphors, like water, but we also take inspiration from other people, and their strength and resiliency in the face of difficult circumstances—the ways in which they unfreeze themselves and make change.
Sharon Salzberg, Real Change