The “Kerthunk” of Truth

Morning’s cool rain did wonders to dispel the stifling heat of the previous evening. I opened the window to my meditation room so as to welcome its gentle pattering sound into the room. Oftentimes I begin a meditation by “watching” my breath. On occasions when my mind is especially scattered I will even count them – from one to ten, and over again. More often than not, though, it is the sound of my surroundings that eventually becomes the object of my meditation. On this particular morning my mind was fairly still to begin with. I took to listening to the patter of the rain from the moment I’d finished ringing the bell.

WetRedbudLeaves

In the latter stages of meditation sound will simply wash over me, or even “through” me if I’ve allowed myself to become sufficiently still. Early on, though, with my intellect still engaged, I will notice things, perhaps, or make discernments of one type or another. And so it was that I noticed a pattern to the rainfall and its accompanying sounds: There was the higher-pitched sound of raindrops splashing on the eves and on the leaves of the trees outside. There were many drops, of course, and not all of them had the same pitch, but their dripping and dropping and pattering was largely confined within some unmeasured range. Less frequent, and of a much lower pitch, was the gurgling of water flowing through the gutters and down the drainpipe. And even less frequent than this was the occasional sound of rolling thunder – deep, distant, resonant.

Deeper still, though, were the sounds that I heard when I held my breath and submersed myself entirely in that gushing stream.

Before finally allowing this mental activity to subside, a memory popped into my conscious mind: I was soaking in a fast-flowing stream after a hard day of riding through the mountains. The surface waters rippled and splashed, much like the raindrops in their narrow band of sound. But there were branches hanging in the stream, as well – pushed downstream by the rushing water, only to spring back so as to be pushed back down again. These sounds were lower and less frequent than those of the surface waters. Deeper still, though, were the sounds that I heard when I held my breath and submersed myself entirely in that gushing stream. Somewhere were boulders rocking back and forth in the current – kerthunk, kerthunk…; kerthunk, kerthunk. Clearly the pattern of the morning rain sounds had brought to the surface that wonderful memory.

RockIvy

As I write this, I’m reminded of the practice of Lectio Divina, “Divine Reading,” engaged in by some Christian contemplatives. Beginning with a scriptural reading, the practitioner will then settle more deeply into prayer – perhaps allowing all activity of the intellect to coalesce around a phrase, or a single word, before finally settling into wordless contemplation. Thus, there is the higher frequency presence of the more readily recognizable worldly phenomena, the reading of the recorded words. What follows is a deeper, lower frequency utterance of some sort of distilled meaning. Ultimately, though, the contemplative rests in the presence of the Divine – perhaps even in oneness with the Divine.

Returning to my morning meditation, however: I eventually settled into a wordless contemplation of my own, allowing the sound of the very world from which I arise to wash over me…, and through me. I can’t for the life of me articulate a difference between where I “end up” via the practice of Zen meditation and where the Christian contemplatives “end up” with theirs. And therein is rooted my sense of kinship with contemplatives of various stripes. The “kerthunk” of Truth is of a language all human beings may understand.

 

Copyright 2018 by Mark Robert Frank

All images are the property of the author unless otherwise noted.

Water Teaches Us the Way

FromOutOfTheHills

 

During heavy rains water flows across our side yard and out into the road. It finds the gulch beyond and tumbles without encumbrance into the valley there. It filters through the turf out back and pools beneath the pines behind our neighbor’s home. Eventually, though, it seeps into the shallow cut nearby – thence to meander ‘neath the pine boughs, and the road leading into town, to marry with the waters of more distant field and wood.

The waters wash bare the earth, leaving tree roots standing out like dark veins on the back of an aging person’s hands. They make the hillsides sag and droop, as if shrugging off the deluge. And yet those hillsides give mightily of themselves as they do, supplying the bottomlands with the nutrients that make them the rich farmland that they are. Perhaps the leaves that I raked into the low spots over the course of the last two autumns will slow this process down a bit. In the grand scheme, however, I’ve merely created a convenient way station for the detritus to accumulate for a time before continuing on its journey down below.

May we all heed water’s lesson of the Way!

I can’t see the river on a brilliant sunny day without seeing the rains beyond. I can’t see the fleshy crops sprouting along its banks without seeing those wooded hillsides up above. If life is indeed a collection of individual beings, then surely water must be that which connects us all. But when I see these flowing waters in the deepest way that I am able, I see only one body, one being, and one Life – with water being the blood ever flowing in its veins.

I studied with a now deceased Ch’an teacher for a time by the name of Ryugen Fisher – referred to by some as Old Frog. At the close of meditation retreats he made a habit of reciting a concatenation of two passages from the Tao Te Ching, one from Chapter Eight and one from Chapter Chapter Seventy-eight. I’ve been reflecting on these passages for the past month or so, reading various translations and bringing them to life in my mind. One way that I do this is by using new words to convey my internalized understanding of the collective works. So, what follows is Ryugen’s recitation, reimagined by this author after benefiting from translations by Fisher, Legge, and Feng/English:

Water teaches us the Way.

It benefits each and every living being,

But seeks nothing in return.

It simply keeps on flowing downward

To places we refuse to go.

Nothing on earth is more supple and yielding than water.

Yet nothing is hard enough, or strong enough,

To contain it or stand in its way.

May we all heed water’s lesson of the Way!

 

Copyright 2018 by Mark Robert Frank

All images are the property of the author unless otherwise noted.