Thursday, November 5, 2009

It's dark outside

This morning I had a conversation with a student about a much beloved koan. In the story, Deshan, who would later become a great master, is still young and somewhat confused (and we might even say arrogant.) At one point, as he's leaving Lungtan, the teacher he has just encountered, he looks outside and sees that night has fallen. "It's dark outside," he says. Both of us had tears in our eyes as we reflected together on this poignant moment. A beautiful poem by Wendell Berry came to mind, which I first heard from a stress reduction student who was in remission from breast cancer. She told me that the poem helped her to allow her to be with her cancer just as it was -- the possibility of death, and the big "don't know" of her life. It was dark in her life, but she found that simply being in the dark was enough. No need to make up anything, no need to know more than she could know.

To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark.
Go without sight.
And find that the dark, too, blooms and sings.
And is traveled by dark feet, and dark wings.

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