A friend recently turned me on to Clarissa Pinkola Estes. Most of you have probably heard of her - she is the author of Women Who Run With the Wolves, which every woman seemed to be reading about ten years ago. I knew of her, but had never actually cracked the book. My introduction to her was through a set of CDs called The Creative Fire, dealing with myths and stories about the cycles of creativity. I am putty in the hands of a good storyteller, and she is a delightful master at it. So I decided to check out the book as well.
And there, I ran across this story:
The Four Rabbinim
One night four Rabbinim were visted by an angel who awakened them and carried them to the Seventh Vault of the Seventh Heaven. There they beheld the sacred Wheel of Ezekiel.
Somewhere in the descent from Pardes, Paradise, to Earth, one Rabbi, having seen such splendor, lost his mind and wandered frothing and foaming until the end of his days. The second Rabbi was extremely cynical: "Oh, I just dreamed Ezekiel's Wheel, that was all. Nothing really happened." The third Rabbi carried on and on about what he had seen, for he was totally obsessed. He lectured and would not stop with how it was all constructed and what it all meant...and in this way he went astray and betrayed his faith. The fourth Rabbi, who was a poet, took a paper in hand and a reed and sat near the window writing song after song praising the evening dove, his daughter in her cradle, and all the stars in the sky. And he lived his life better than before.
Okay, first I have to admit: I love this story because the poet wins! Not wins - you know what I mean. The poet is the one with the healthiest response, the most life affirming reaction to seeing paradise.
It calls to mind for me Zen teaching I have heard about moments of enlightenment, altered states that result from periods of zazen, or from mindfulness, or those that simply arise as gifts from the universe. What happens if we have one of those moments? Do we go mad? Do we brush it aside with cynicism? Do we intellectualize it to death? Or do we just use that beautiful insight, that moment of connection, to further enrich our own everyday, ordinary lives, penning a poem or writing a song, and then moving on to the next right thing?
In the book The Places that Scare You, Pema Chodron tells of a student who has such an enlightenment moment. The student is standing on a street corner, and suddenly she feels no separateness between herself and everything else in her sight, and then that expands to a feeling of connection to the entire world. She is profoundly shaken by this, and rethinks everything she has ever believed. The problem came when she began to despair that she could not maintain this sensation all the time. Everyday life now felt dull and unpurposeful; all she wanted was to re-enter that state of blissful union. She became miserably unhappy.
Suzuki-roshi, too, lectures again and again about not becoming attached to enlightenment or special states. The message seems to be coming loud and clear from many directions.
I like the fact that the poet in this story has "right attitude" - for me, poetry has always been very Zen. It is a crystallization of the now, a nugget of beauty or surprise, a sigh, or simply one deep breath.
So, here is a breath for you, by Zen poet Saigyo:
Every single thing
Changes and is changing
Always in this world.
Yet with the same light
The moon goes on shining.