A window is nothing but a hole in the wall but that hole fills the room with light. Just as when the mind is empty the heart fills with light. Zhuangzi
At fourteen, standing within the sanctuary of the Art Institute, I experienced my first epiphany while contemplating an ancient Chinese painting. A magical mountain floated atop curving empty space. At first glance, the blank spaces made the painting look strange and unfinished. But upon closer inspection it seemed the emptiness contained a hidden presence. A lone gnarled tree, clinging to the sheer soaring cliffs, reached into the blankness. The faint outline of a narrow path was barely visible on the precipitous cliff-face. A lone scholar figure, dwarfed by the mountain, stood at the edge of the abyss. His robes billowed slightly, and his long hair flowed down his back. The scholar starred into the void just below the soaring mountain. Perhaps he scanned the skies for signs of an absent love or a path forward. Mentally stepping into the magnificent landscape blazed a path into my heart-mind. I was entranced by the astonishing vertical perspective and bewildering depths of the artistic minds that created such astonishing works. A profound calm surrounded me. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up as a slight breeze seemed to flow from the painted scene. My scalp tingled from the vibrations of potential, metaphysical illumination. The mystifying characters and wondrous red seals cascading across the silk conveyed unimaginable significance beyond my comprehension. Every element in the painting appeared to be under transformation – man, poem, mountain, wind, the Void… Swaying gently before the altar of art I began a metamorphosis which would take years to comprehend. Small wings began to beat within my soul. After the epiphanous moment subsided I began my journey towards transformation.
After that miraculous event, I began to study Asian arts, and philosophy. Over the decades, I have learned: we must train our spirit-essence through meditation in order to overcome the yearnings of the heart-mind. We must cultivate the essence of our souls, and not allow our greed to force us into unnatural behavior. Wrongdoings are manifested by unnatural thoughts or beliefs which warp our behavior. We must strive to adapt to the environment around us and resist trying to force situations to meet our expectations. All external things are constantly transforming again and again – the Universe is Ever-Changing.
n the last few years, I have tried to follow what the Taoist call the principle of Wu Wei – taking no unnecessary action. I understand this to mean take no action or reaction to unfolding events that is not useful. Whenever I have stewed about what I perceived as a wrong done against me, I have tried to turn down the pressure by letting things unfold without forcing my preconceptions into the mix. I would humbly never state emphatically my point of view beyond my own direct efforts towards understanding. I practice an ancient meditation technique centered on passive meditation, striving for illumination and occasional transcendence. To paraphrase Zhuangzi, a window is nothing but a hole in the wall but that hole fills the room with light. Just as when the mind is empty the heart fills with light.
In traditional Chinese thought the heart was the center of emotions and thoughts. This is why it is called the heart-mind. Western traditions tend to separate the body from the mind. The heart-mind contains both the body and the mind. But the great sage Zhuangzi did not think people were ruled by their heart-mind. He believed people’s actions were guided by their spirit – Shen. Spirit is a type of energy (Qi). If one meditates and quiets the heart-mind, spirit can flow more evenly and ones lives more in tune with the universe. By cultivating one’s spirit, conflict is reduced in our interactions with people and the potential of others can flourish as well. This cultivation of your individual spirit reinforces “De” – (as in ancient text the Dao De Jing). This is the inherent power, integrity, energy you give off that relaxes people around you. It is a key to self-transcendence obtained through meditating.
Your aim is to forget your self, leave behind your opinions and beliefs. There are no choices and no invoking of the self. When thoughts float up from the emptiness let them return to the emptiness unnoticed. It is natural for thoughts to occur, but they are not you, but are the natural state of things. Humans naturally have thoughts but when you are meditating do not allow those thoughts to become identified with you. This interrupts your inner cultivation, and you begin to converse with the thoughts. Choiceless awareness means observing what occurs without grasping onto it. By allowing things to happen without choosing you become more adept at living naturally. You metaphorically become an “uncarved block” and return to your original state of being. Peace.
Part of this post were excerpted from a long-form piece I wrote about discovering the home of the ancient poet-artist-scholar Su Shi (pronounced Sue Sure): Searching for Su Shi