Saturday, September 3, 2011

A Zen of Desire

The world before my eyes is wan and wasted, just like me.
The earth is decrepit, the sky stormy, all the grass withered.
No spring breeze even at this late date,
Just winter clouds swallowing up my tiny reed hut.

Zen Master Ikkyu, 1394-1481

I have been thinking this morning about delay. Specifically, how delay is felt, experienced, and the desire behind it. When things don't come to us when we want them to, or expected them to, we call it a delay. We say we are in waiting, putting labels on this particular bracket of experience.

But what is it, really? How is it that yesterday was "on-time," but today is "a delay"?

Nothing changed. And everything changed. But regardless, the shift from on-time to delay is all about the quality of desire. Something was desired to occur at a certain time. It didn't. And now the quality of desire has shifted.

Although it may not have been the case, in Ikkyu's poem, I sense a bit of longing for spring. Both the literal spring and, also, the spring of waking up to some part of his life he continues to miss. When winter was full on, it probably seemed pointless to desire spring. Maybe there was a slow burning wanting, the kind that keeps people warm enough, and keeps us returning to meditation, self-reflection, and studying of sacred texts. But when the winds are so cold that they burn your cheeks, something like spring, the unfolding of a new chapter in your life, or enlightenment - all that seems really far off.

However, when it appears to be closer, when the buds have popped out on the trees all around you, the quality of longing changes. It intensifies really. Sometimes a hell of a lot.

One of the paradoxes of Zen practice as I see it is that we rely on desire and we let it go, cut it off even. It's the juice that brings us through and also that which holds us back from waking up completely.

Delay is nothing but the quality of desire changing.

No comments: