Contemplify NonRequired Reading List for October 31, 2019
October NonRequired Reading List
My uncle died earlier this month. Eighty candles donned his last birthday donut. The grief of his passing filtered through my body before surfacing in my own memento mori reflections. I paused to recollect how the moments of life stack up so slowly as a kid. And then as an adult momentum builds and adds a rush of new memories to the stack, and before long a monument to moments has been constructed in the halls of memory. It is easy to be humbled in its presence. It looms high overhead and somehow leaves both a fragrant and pungent scent on your clothes. Now, the memories cast a prophetic shadow over their maker. A shadow lined with untold Tension. Newness is excused from her post and Tension is the teacher now.
How many stories do I have left to tell? What is just around the bend? Tension teaches a trifold path; claiming the life lived, releasing the numerous lives that went unlived, and following Mystery's invitation to love endlessly in the here and now. This is the subtle crux of the examined life.
At eighty trips around the sun my uncle was nearly twice my age, which makes me a newbie in the midlife pool. The water’s not too hot, not too cold, just lukewarm. But I don’t do lukewarm. Goldilocks I am not. My steps bounce with gratitude to have made it to the midlife pool, but I don’t want to just practice my backstroke til I get bumped to the senior hot tub, my backflip needs perfecting and some horseplay is certainly called for.
My dreams slingshot so high into flight they graze heaven’s cellar door and yet I relish waking at 5:30 to the stillness of the cracking morning. This is the paradox of entering midlife I suppose, flight and stillness. Is this how Tension plans on showing up in my body during this the season of life? As far as I can tell, there is no way around it for this contemplative shoveler.
Tension is a tricky word. I am not talking about the tension that lies in the aftershock of the latest scuttlebutt of the workaday world. The Tension I am courting is the soft kiss between opposites attracted, lady knowledge and gentleman unknowing. This type of Tension manifests into words that animate; passion, yearning, child-like, mastery, curiosity, resilience. It all depends on how that kiss lands on your lips in that particular moment.
Tension, when engaged, is the threshold to self-reflective experience, and when embodied can lead to wisdom.
I am banking my life on that Tension. I’ll keep you posted on how that pans out.
This month’s NonRequired Reading List will encourage a peck from Tension through a few more Zen texts and a poetry collection in the spirit ol Honest Abe: Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, The Complete Cold Mountain, and Railsplitter.
October's NonRequired Reading List
Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind by Shunryū Suzuki (Get it at the Public Library or IndieBound)
This book will be within arm’s reach for decades to come. I picked up Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind from the local library. Upon finishing it, I recognized that this book was not finished with me. And likely never would be. I bought a copy for 3 bucks at a thrift store. The world shows herself to be an upside down and unpredictable matron when you can get a book of timeless wisdom for less than a sawbuck. Suzuki’s teaching is simple, humorous, wise, and delightfully confounding at times. I have made it a practice to read a portion each morning.
“So actually you will find the value of Zen in your everyday life, rather than while you sit. But this does not mean you should neglect zazen (practice). Even though you do not feel anything when you sit, if you do not have this zazen experience, you cannot find anything; you just find weeds, or trees, or clouds in your daily life; you do not see the moon. That is why you are always complaining about something.” (p.121)
Take a couple of paragraphs and call me in the morning. This is my contemplative prescription. Suzuki is teaching you how to make all of your life contemplative practice. A lot of folks talk about it from a postured nonduality (my two cents), Suzuki teaches you through your own embodiment (my 3 buck experience).
My friends tell me that I’m a Christian and I don’t argue with that truth. But my friends from across the religious aisles are also bolstering my practice without coercing me to join their gaggle. God, what a treat to feel their camaraderie and encouragement on this journey. May I do the same for them from the wisdom of my tradition.
This book is for anyone who wants the very details of life to be their most direct practice.
Railsplitter by Maurice Manning (Get it at the Public Library or IndieBound)
If you have stuck by the Contemplify basecamp long enough, you know that poetry provides us with an inner fire. Not a poet, but I am one who hopes to embody an artful life with poetic inclinations. The poetry of Maurice Manning has captured my attention again. A friend of Contemplify, Manning finds poetry in his place and in the everyday; past and present. In his most recent collection, Railsplitter, he conjures the spirit of Abraham Lincoln post-assination and from that ghostly perspective pontificates the meanings of his life. Might sound odd or a hagiography of a dead president...and in the voice of a lesser poet it would be both. But Maurice Manning is no ordinary poet.
Maurice Manning is poet with mystic, earthy values. I reckon he’d shrug off the mystic moniker before I could pin it on him, but it doesn’t dissuade me from using it here as he draws from sources beyond the facades, lyrics tethered to timelessness. His words linger on in your ears:
“The language accommodates our contradictions,
our divided selves, and one who claims
never to be divided, whose melancholy
never makes war with his happiness,
whose malice never cedes to charity,
will be surprised when the drama turns
the mind against itself, and the metaphor
approaches, but never arrives, at justice.”
Railsplitter is for poetry lovers inspired by and eager to bear witness to a humble creative genius.
The Complete Cold Mountain: Poems of the Legendary Hermit Hanshan translated by Kazuaki Tanahashi and Peter Levitt (Get it at the Public Library or IndieBound)
Zen has a much better handle on humor than most religious or philosophical traditions. The veneration of the life and poetry of the hermit Hanshan makes that quite clear. Equal parts holy fool and sage poet, Hanshan throws you into a Zen mosh pit. Folklore tells of monks chasing Hanshan away with sticks while he held onto his birch bark hat and tearfully laughing. The image of the late great comic Robin Williams springs to mind for me.
Tanahashi’s study of Hanshan’s work leads him to the conclusion that Hanshan is not an individual, but a handful of poets across a few centuries (imagine having the gall to take the name of a famed dead hermit and quietly extend their canon). This discovery does not take away from the lucid poems that can tickle and unlock a soul simultaneously.
“Only white clouds on Cloud Mountain,
so still beyond the dusty world.
My mountain home has a grass seat,
she solitary lamp is the moon’s bright disk.
My stone bed overlooks the jade pond,
tiger and deer are often my neighbors.
I covet the joy of my secluded dwelling,
where I can always be a person beyond form.” (p.83)
The Complete Cold Mountain is for those who bend to nature’s Zen wisdom.
Arts and Articles
‘Easy Keeper’ by Del Barber (acronym Records): Barber is a friend and top-shelf songwriter. If music is your favored sous chef while cooking supper, this album is for you. Barber's rollicking songs will peel your potatoes and his vulnerable song craft will make the onions cry.
'Citizen of Dark Times' by Kim Stafford (Red Hen Press): A poem for times such as these. (Hat tip to Cliff)
The 3 most recent episodes...
May you feel the Tension of your imperfect practice, livelihood, and days.
The spreading of peanut butter across toast that ultimately drips on your pants.
A joke that sounded funny when it sat on your tongue,
but stung a friend when it hit her ears.
Shunryū Suzuki says, “Even in wrong practice, when you realize it and continue, there is right practice. Our practice cannot be perfect, but being discouraged by this, we should continue it. This is the secret of practice.”
Held in Tension,
P.S. An invitation before the Non-Required Reading List closes out...do you have a burning contemplative question that you think I might be able to respond to or explore? A question that was born from examining your own life or arose from listening to Contemplify ? If so, you can record your question here and it could be featured on a future episode of Contemplify. I thought this could be a fun and fruitful experiment for us to create together.
P.P.S. If you were forwarded this NonRequired Read List and want to sign up to receive the next one, sign up below.