Tuesday, March 30, 2010
One relatively minor thing I discovered was the fact that in Japan there are more than four official seasons. The Japanese regard seasonal transitions as kinds of seasons unto themselves. Well, if not in the Southern Hemisphere, we in the Northern one are definitely in the middle of one of those unofficial seasons. Everywhere, things are mid-way between winter and spring - with spring predominating so far. Small, soil-hugging spring ephemerals of the horticultural variety have been appearing in gardens for the past two weeks, more like alpine or Arctic plants than Temperate Forest zone ones (my bioregion). If the warm weather persists in the next fortnight, the tulips, daffodils, irises, and so on will stretch to normal heights. Then we really will know we are in Spring proper. Until then, we'll be in this as-yet-unnamed season, unsure what coats to put away or leave out, nervous about storing winter boots, and superstitious about hiding the snow shovel.
Transitions are interesting because they embody ambiguity, a concept the human mind finds fascinating and troubling. We enjoy our categories, don't we? I don't need to remind anyone of either the benefits of classification or the terrible costs.
Zen teachings encourage the mind to embrace the Oneness of all. The challenge - one of many, I suppose, in a highly disciplined practice - is to break down (artificial) fences and see the underlying connections. We cling to those cozy categories and refuse to acknowledge their evanescence and arbitrary narture. With concerted study, the mind can learn to recognize the innate tendency to group things as like or not-like, and transcend those areas of disconnection. An "easy" place to start would be the human species, which we now break down into classes, religions, cultures, skin colors, and on and on. Those differences are indeed there - diversity exists in the world of humanity and most everything else - yet they also do not exist.
Try holding that thought in your mind for a few minutes. It's not exactly a Zen koan, but it will do until a real Zen master comes along to suggest one!