Sunday, October 29, 2006

Bach and Zen

Yesterday, I attended a Zen workshop at which we were asked to hear the moment, the messages of the world, and to write them down. It was an exercise meant to teach us to listen to what’s around us, and to ourselves. The teacher put on a Bach CD to accompany the writing. Here’s the result, written in about 10 minutes. The line about Nirvana is from the Heart Sutra, one of the foundational writings of Buddhism.


How funny! I was feeling pain until the music started, before it swept in like a butterfly. I’d been trying to hear the messages, the hum, of the world. I heard Darfur. Iraq. I guess it makes sense for me to focus on world events, since I spend all my days as a journalist simmering in them, and indeed feeling somewhat overcooked at the end of the day. So much pain!

And yet, that music! The bow of the cello or violin - I don’t know which - sweeping up and down like wings on air. Again, a butterfly. And rain on the window, the wind, the engines and brakes of trucks on Crosby Street. All just happening.

My mind imposes on the world this idea of pain. Not that it isn’t there, but that I qualify it that way, and allow its abstractions to obscure the moment - the thousands and thousands of cellos that play around me every day in the street, the cliched music of the car horns, the rhythm of the rain. “Far beyond deluded thoughts, this is Nirvana.”

There is some sadness in the music, the melancholy low tones, as in the world, as in everything. Isn’t everything sad, just as everything is happy? This duality is yet another fiction. Surely, even in Darfur, even in Iraq, someone laughs. Really, it’s just music. It’s just a butterfly. It’s just the rain. It just is.

Perhaps this is too neat. Perhaps the victim of a crime, the relative of someone who worked at the World Trade Center, the mother of a sick infant in Somalia, won’t see this fundamental balance.

But what does the world say?

The world says only, “I am here. Be sure you notice.”

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