Speaking of sludge, the loo is a time-honored perch for contemplation. In European medieval households, the garderobe, as they called it, was often used as a reading room. Some castles and large houses even had a row of toilets lined up on the stone bench, with windows and it often functioned as the only quiet time a person could get of a day.
My father had a pair of funny paper ear coverings hidden in his desk, with ‘bull-shit protectors’ printed on them. They never came out of the desk though; why should they? He had the bathroom on Sunday mornings. I remember waiting for him and wondering what the heck he ever found to keep him in there so long. Now I know.
I’d like to share a few thoughts from some of my bathroom reading. Since this week’s contemplation must certainly consider my faulty perceptions of how people should behave and disenchantment of relationships and communication between humans, I’m on a hearty quest.
In Music, the Way Home, Miriam Terese Winter says polarizing forces at work in the world “have contributed to a divided reality that fragments us inside and out. We seem to thrive on opposition, creating contexts and even contests that set us over against someone or something we must conquer in order to control. A hierarchic competitive mode permeates society and religion. This fundamental dualism is divisive and destructive to body, mind and psyche, and we cannot simply will it away. We need to take conscious steps toward unity in every sphere of our lived reality, make efforts at integration through all of our disintegrated lives.
“...When we are one with the divine presence and one with all of Creation, we are predisposed to open ourselves up to be one with another, extending our bonds of kinship beyond the borders of our here and now. Our circle of love is too often circumscribed by the limits of our experience. If we live parochially, we will love parsimoniously, trapped within the suffocating stance of insularity.”
Poet Edwin Markham wrote:
He drew a circle that shut me out~
heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
we drew a circle that took him in.
I have carried around the small book, Zen Seeds, Reflections of a Female Priest, by Shundo Aoyama, for twenty years. She combines personal experiences with the wisdom of sacred Buddhist texts and there is an answer here for just about any qualm I may have in my daily life.
In pondering over ‘four ways of seeing water’, after recovering from an illness, she muses: "It is natural that, since people lead different lives, they have many ways of seeing things. Each of them, thinking the way he or she sees things is absolutely right, measures other people by that standard and always judges the other party to be mistaken. This is where I fall short of enlightenment, and it is also the key to understanding the mundane world. How I feel, see things, and think at the present moment depends on the limited experiences, and knowledge accumulated in my past life, my present health, and my emotional ups and downs. That is a tentative interpretation or judgment, but never an absolute one. If I am aware of this basic element of human nature in the ordinary person or in the sick person within myself, no troubles or discord will take place in my life or in the world around me."
Aoyama goes on, “As long as human beings continue to be human beings, we will be unable to escape from our mundane way of looking at things. If we believe our personal way of seeing things is absolutely right, and if we persist in this, allowing ourselves to be totally carried away by our own viewpoint, then a vast difference will separate us from the Pure Land, or Other Shore, and we will remain in a world of suffering on This Shore.”
A woman who contributed to my love of dance when I lived in Laguna Beach was Gabrielle Roth. I met her as a dance teacher and that is how I know her in my morning ablutions here at home. In her book, Sweat Your Prayers, she says, “Every time I dance I shed the skins of separateness and I feel the frequency of tribe...we may present different aspects of ourselves to different people, but we too are one, not just in and of ourselves but one with each other, the earth and the universe. We touch one part of the whole; and another part feels it, there’s a resonance, an awareness of being in a bigger picture.”
When I moved to Garden Valley, I saw the whole and thought it was beautiful and friendly and a place I could be forever. As my vision of the perfect fragmented into the smaller particles of groups and cliques and organizations, my starry-eyed illusion had to be adjusted to include the human aspect, which added some consonant and dissonant notes to the masterpiece.
One favorite bathroom perusal is Edly’s Music Theory for Practical People. Ed Roseman is a multi-talented musician who says he also makes pottery and origami, brews beer and loves to juggle. What he says about music I believe applies to human relationships...and so it must, as our pulse beats with the pulse of the cosmos—we are music. He admonishes us to listen, to ourselves and to anyone else we are playing with. As he puts it, this is often the hardest part for a beginning improviser. If we play non-chord tones we will hear a higher level of tension.
I see this improvisation as being very human; it is how we create and find interesting harmony and there is nothing so bad about a bit of tension. It makes things more interesting and keeps us vibrating around each other in playful patterns. But a musician needs to know when to rein it in before everything goes out of whack.
Have a good week.