"The Hills are Alive"
- Outside the Desert Retreat House -
Browsing through Facebook yesterday I came across a picture someone posted of DaVinci's renowned portrait of the Mona Lisa, and I immediately recalled the time when I viewed this painting in person when we visited the famous Louvre museum in Paris some years back. Unfortunately my experience in that wonderful museum was not at all pleasant.
It was mid-summer and the place was packed with tourists. We could hardly get near the exhibits but worse than that, instead of "taking in" the many stunning works of art, the tourists did little more than "take pictures" of what they were viewing.
I clearly remember standing before the Mona Lisa, almost unable to see it because of the constant flashing of cameras - people incessantly snapping photos. Most stood in front of those world famous paintings for less than 5 seconds, just long enough to get their shot and then move on to the next thing--"been there done that."
For me, that museum experience was a perfect example of "dualistic thinking" - a lesson about how people (especially people from a rational, intellectual Western culture ) imagine about the "real world"- a world out there separate and apart form the individual thinker. From this worldview, the mind of an individual is like a camera that snaps a shot of the world out there--and somehow that world then gets mechanistically transferred into the individual's brain. You take a picture once and put it in your folder.
The assumption is that when people look at that objective world most will see that same thing in pretty much the same way (unless something is wrong with the camera of your mind).
I simply don't believe it works like that - the real world is not so mechanistic, not so dualistic, not so focused on the individual ego.
I remember another time in another museum when I stood before Michelangelo's famous sculpture of David. As I stood in front of this noble piece of art, something "transformational" happened to me- a relationship was forged between me and that chunk of marble. Somehow I knew that boy-king David and he knew me. I knew Michelangelo and he knew me - there was a resonance between us. That statue didn't simply dwell in a world out there apart from me. We all belonged to one another. In that museum I learned another lesson about the real world - the real world is a "relationship"
There is a Zen saying of which I am very fond:
The fundamental delusion of humanity is to suppose that
I am here and you are out there.
Any photographer will tell you that taking pictures is hardly a mechanistic process of transferring an objective world out there through the lens of a camera into the brain of the photographer. Every single photograph is always an encounter between the person holding the camera and the living world- in each photo something new is born and created.
I have walked the desert trails around my house and taken thousands of pictures, and each one of them is a new creation. Each photograph reflects what the living desert was saying to me at that time and in that place and what I was bringing to the desert. Each photograph cries out a truth about the "real world"- everything is alive and everyone and everything all belong to one another.
I always begin my day sitting in the quiet of my meditation garden, watching the sun rise over the eastern mountains as I listen to the doves cooing in the palm trees. And although it may look like the same scenario day by day, it is always new every morning. We all sit out there together, the sun, the birds, the mountains and me - all part of one marvelous whole. The many parts are the ONE and the name of the ONE is "God."
Another Buddhist/Taoist saying comes to mind:
The birds have vanished into the sky and now
the last cloud drains away.
We sit together, the mountain and me,
until only the mountain remains.