My Whole Life a Bell
Stop the sound of the distant temple bell.’
~ Pacific Zen Miscellaneous Koans
Resistance. I often hear from students that don’t like this or that koan; that this one is harder than that one. I actually like to hear those comments. Resistance means there is heat, and where there is heat, there may be fire, and where fire, light.
When Annie Dillard published Pilgrim at Tinker Creek in the mid 1970s, I was not a fan; nature-spirit writing for dilettantes. For me, sitting at the bank of my own Las Trampas Creek, I wanted unadorned reality: books with wisdom like Black Elk Speaks and the Tao Te Ching.
I am not sure how Annie, for so many years exiled from my reading list, recently showed up again. But I read and enjoyed this from Pilgrim, and wanted to share it with you:
When her doctor took her bandages off and led her into the garden, the girl who was no longer blind saw ‘the tree with the lights in it.’ It was for this tree I searched through the peach orchards of summer, in the forests of fall and down winter and spring for years.
Then one day I was walking along Tinker Creek and thinking of nothing at all and I saw the tree with the lights in it. I saw the backyard cedar where the mourning doves roost charged and transfigured, each cell buzzing with flame. I stood on the grass with the lights in it, grass that was wholly fire, utterly focused and utterly dreamed.
It was less like seeing than like being for the first time seen, knocked breathless by a powerful glance. The flood of fire abated, but I’m still spending the power. Gradually the lights went out in the cedar, the colors died, the cells un-flamed and disappeared.
I was still ringing. I had been my whole life a bell and never knew it until at the moment I was lifted and struck. I have since only very rarely seen the tree with the lights in it. The vision comes and goes, mostly goes, but I live for it, for the moment the mountains open and a new light roars in spate through the crack, and the mountains slam.
The temple bell, of course, is not distant at all. It is here, waiting for us to ring it. Who can resist?