A monk asked Fuketsu, ‘Both speech and silence are concerned with form and emptiness. How do we transcend them? Fuketsu said, ‘I often think of the DMV in January, when the lines extend around the building.’

~ Gateless Barrier, Case 24 (adapted)

What if not one thing had a name? Recently reading a wonderful book about a

woman falconer who was raising a goshawk and trying to move beyond the grief of losing her father, I came to this line: ‘I was feeling emotions I had no words for.’ It made me pull up and consider what is it to have no names for things? To un-name the world around us. I thought about how when we put names on things ~ like redwood tree, snow bank or me-Jon ~ we already limit the possibilities. As Helen MacDonald writes in H is for Hawk, for decades she had a ‘fixed vision of what a goshawk was, but (that that vision) was not big enough to hold what a goshawk (truely) is.’

The above koan is far more lush than I rendered it, and one of my favorites. In response to the monk’s question, Fuketsu replies ‘I often think of South Lake in March, when the partridges chirp among hundreds of sweet-scented blossoms.’ In Zen, of course, we know that from the very first, there is no subject or object. In all the world, there is not one thing to name. But that discussion ~ subject, object, form, emptiness ~ itself is populated with names that limit the possibilities. That was what the monk was asking about.

Last night at dinner my daughter asked me what I was writing about. I told her I wanted to discuss un-naming things; and to posit that by going about in the world without putting names on things we might experience life just a bit more directly. She brought me up short: ‘What about when you go out into the real world, like apply for a driver’s license? How do you do that without a name?’ I agreed the long lines at the Department of Motor Vehicles are a pain in the ass.