Perspective is Everything

Apr. 1, 2010 - Posted by in: Blog - 5 Comments

Photo by Sensei Joshin O'Hara

A week later and I’m still left with some very distinct impressions from our afternoon on the High Line Park,  Day One of Urban Sesshin.

Everything depends on perspective, Shuso said, a concept that achieved particular resonance on the High Line Park. There we were, suspended in mid-air,  with, on one side, a view of the Hudson River, on the other, the bowels of the Meat Market below, with its shiny new boutiques and upscale restaurants. The colorful rooftops and trendy hotels have replaced the abattoirs  and before that,  the  granaries of another era.

As we walked about, at this elevated height, I felt free of the person I normally take myself to be. Stripped of function, released from role, I felt deliciously open and fluid, as if invited to step outside the particular  play I was in, and for a moment, given a panoramic view of all the plays in progress, one superimposed upon another, or overlapping – all the plays that make up what we call the history of a given time.

What is more opening than having a couple of hours in which to do nothing but breathe in the sights and sounds of a city,  witness the confluence of elements that make it so vibrant, take stock of this particular moment. In Shuso parlance, to peel back the skin and reveal the  flocking cluster of cells beneath.

Without my typical purposeful, task-oriented self along for the ride, simply sensing the sun on my skin,  the cool of the shade, hearing the sounds of the city below,  seeing the mulch-covered plants peeking out  ready to bloom, I felt awash in the wonder of what it is to be a human being.  For a moment,  the habit of  anxiety dropping away.

I’d love to hear about others’ experiences of Urban Sesshin.

photo by paul romaine

  1. 5 Responses to “Perspective is Everything”

  2. Thank you Sensei. My revealing experience of urban Sesshin came on the day we went to visit the Museum of Natural History. After wandering for a while through the exhibits I went to visit my old friend the extinct Dodo bird skeleton. Even thought this is one of only two full skeletons in existence, Dodo is displayed with very little information in an unremarkable case inside another case in the crowded Hall of Biodiversity. I did a series of paintings about the odd bird in 2003. After the museum visit our group gathered in central park for a discussion. When my turn came, I spoke about Dodo, and as I told how I offered a gassho and bow to “poor Dodo,” I accidentally said “poor Musho…” everyone laughed and I tried to make it funny. Latter as I thought about it I realized it made sense to look at extinct Dodo in a display case and say “poor Musho” because the total interconnection and interdependence of all things is just exactly what we were sent to the museum to see and feel, and is exactly what we are trying, with full diligence, to realize in our Zen study. So extinct Dodo in the display case is exactly Musho, and Musho standing outside the display case feeling sorry for Dodo, is exactly Dodo. It would also be true to say that the energy of happy Dodo frolicking on an remote undiscovered island 300 years ago is part of Musho, as is the spirit of the rough merchants and boat men who killed all the Dodos, not knowing they killed them all. I don’t know what I’m killing. My species will go extinct. I’m only as real as extinct Dodo, and Dodo is only as real as I am. Poor Musho! And yet here I am happily frolicking on an undiscovered island.

    By Musho on Apr 3, 2010

  3. Thank you Sensei for your thoughts about the High Line Park and the room it gave you to breathe. The wind and sun and sparkling water made spring come to me a little more quickly when the past week had seemed so bleak and I wondered if I would ever see a tulip except in those white buckets at all the little grocery stores in our neighborhood.
    What really struck and stayed with me from our visit to the High Line was not completely outside and not completely in – it is the fabulous wall of colored glass whose shades changed every time I walked by it depending on the level of the sun in the sky.
    The first time I encountered those panes of glass I got to the middle or the assemblage then just stopped and gasped – put quickly put my hand over my mouth, looking around – embarrassed to maybe have drawn attention to my intense reaction.
    At the end of the wall I read how the artist was inspired to create it and felt awe at how our brains can hold such huge visions and pixel sized thoughts at once and combine them together to make this fantastic wall.
    On one my last trip past the wall of glass (I made quite a few) a ray of teal sunlight suddenly shoot out and landed on my hand. Ungraspable, I let it rest on my palm, than balanced it on my knuckle. Back and forth until the sun shifted and took its jewel somewhere else. I felt my eyes well up in amazement until one tear spilled over and ran down my cheek. Then felt that tear immediately whisked away by that fiercely thrilling wind. And in just that moment I forgot myself and relaxed into the spontaneity of being. What a gift! Later that night as I tried to explain it to my husband and again NOW as I’m writing this down, I am reflecting on my first reaction as opposed to my second to which I offer many bows to for reminding me (once again) I’m not the star of the show – even if as Shuso so elegantly explained I have what? A teaspoon? A thimbleful? Of ageless stardust sprinkled in me.

    By Guo Ming on Apr 4, 2010

  4. Musho,

    Thanks for sharing your connection to the Dodo. I love it. And for your being able to see that your slip of the tongue was no accident but rather a more profound truth than your rational mind could perceive at the time. A beautiful example of what it means to trust ourselves. Slips and all.

    By Joshin on Apr 4, 2010

  5. And Guo Ming,

    What a marvellous description of that wall of glass I walked past and didn’t see!

    So who was the star of the show if not you???

    Whose palm did that teal sunlight shoot out and nestle in? Whose knuckle did it balance on? Who took the whole scene in and was thrilled in her being?

    And who’s sharing it with us all now so generously?

    By Joshin on Apr 4, 2010

  6. gasshos of course for your thoughts, everyone.

    will just chime in with a slight correction to Guo Ming, if i may: thimbleful? you’re too modest! ALL of you! All of musho, the dodo, and everything/one else, too – nothing else but stardust!! The whole shebang!

    as joni mitchell sang:
    we are stardust, we are golden,
    we must get back to the garden… :)

    By Soten on Apr 4, 2010

You must be logged in to post a comment.