Thursday, February 13, 2014

No Windows, No Walls

"I am the Flower"
-in my meditation garden-

Yesterday in my photography class I showed my fellow students a small little picture I took of one single hibiscus flower in my meditation garden.

My instructor went wild over it. He loved the photograph. The picture elicited all sorts of protracted responses from my fellow students. And, for me, that one simple photograph afforded an opportunity for me to spend some time reflecting on just exactly what it was about that picture that elected those responses among us. 

I am a "Westerner." I have grown up in and have been fashioned by an American-Western culture that is essentially quite mechanistic and dualistic: "Body-soul," "mind-matter," "subject-object" - all discrete parts that work together in accordance with programmed specifications.

The basic assumption of the culture in which I was formed is that "I" exist as a separate individual with a mind inside my body, and that there is a real objective world apart from me. My mind is something like a window that opens out to that objective world existing out there.  I can study that world, manipulate and control that world,  talk about it, even take pictures of it. 

The very way in which my "Western" language is structured feeds into this mechanistic and dualistic worldview. As a boy, I clearly remember "diagramming"  sentences in English class -  looking for the "subject, the "verb" and the "object,"  individual subjects acting upon a world of objects. So it is that  "I take a picture of a flower." 

Over the years I have come to seriously question the commonly accepted dualistic worldview into which I was born.  I have come to adopt a much more "Buddhist, "  Eastern philosophy that doesn't see a world of individualized subjects apart from and acting upon discrete objects out there.

As I see it,  all being "is" a dynamic complex flow of relationship.  Photographer and flower are not separate entities. My mind is not a window looking at a flower out there, whose picture I take.   Photographer and flower are "beings-in-relationship," always unfolding into something new as the universe flows on in inexplicable mystery.  

Chuang Tzu, sometimes referred to as the "Father of Taoism" once said:

The Universe and I came into being together, and I and everything therein, are One.

There is also this story about a dream Chuang Tzu once had:

One night, Chuang Tzu dreamed of being a butterfly - a happy butterfly, unaware of being Chuang Tzu. Suddenly he awoke, drowsily, Chuang Tzu again.  And he could not tell whether it was Chuang Tzu who had dreamt the butterfly or the butterfly dreaming Chuang Tzu.

As I sit in my garden this morning, I  think about my experience in my photography class yesterday - all of us sitting around amazed at the beauty of a little picture of a single flower.

I realize that yesterday, we were't separate persons with mind-windows looking out at a picture of a real-world flower. As we sat before that photograph, we had entered into a "relationship" with it. We were all "participating"  in it,  and that participation wasn't simple or little at all - it was grand and wonderful, beautiful, complex and mysterious.

I am gazing again at that photograph this morning.  I look at that flower and realize that we are dancing together.

I look at the flower, and indeed,  I am unsure if I am the flower or the flower is me.

I think of something Rumi (the great Sufi mystic poet) once wrote:

They say there is a window from one heart to another,
but how can there be a window where no wall remains?

It's amazing what you can learn from one simple picture of one simple flower. 

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