Recently one of the members of the Secular Buddhist group I facilitate expressed concern that Buddhism, with its goal of equanimity, would dull his experience of the beauty of the world. He is an artist. I was able to assure him as I had had to resolve the same issue with regard to my poetry. Like any artist, I am familiar with the many forms of ecstasy we frequently experience as romantic individuals.
The majority of the poetry I have written is romantic, i.e. boy meets girl. However in another sense this kind of romantic poetry is about the loss of the love we had for ourselves and the world that we had as children and how we come by degrees to believe that it can only be found in the love of another. Thus we become seekers.
As a child growing up here in Victoria my first heroes were naturalists of some form: Loren Eiseley, Henry Thoreau and Aldo Leopold. The writing of these men showed me that there were others who loved the natural world as I did and that it was good and wise to love it so. I was not a seeker then. I was a lover.
Over the years, as I and my sense of the world grew, I embraced not just the natural world but all the sciences and humanities. I began that journey so many of us set out on, becoming a seeker, and slowly, imperceptivity, losing the path, becoming lost in Dante’s dark forest, forgetting who I was.
Now in middle age, to paraphrase T. S. Eliot, I find myself at the end of all my exploring, arriving where I started. Unlike Eliot however I know the place not for the first time, but again.
As a Buddhist for many years now, I practice mindfulness as often as I can remember to do so. I find I have been here before, quietly listening to the sounds of the natural world. I sat this week on a bench in our little harbor town and listened to the rare silence the snow brought. “Sometimes,” wrote Thoreau, “as I drift idly on Walden Pond, I cease to live and begin to be.”
Mindfulness is a core practice of Buddhism. Whether practiced alone or with another, sitting in meditation or walking, is not only a skillful means of discovering the true nature of ourselves and thus the world but it is also the end of seeking. It is, as the romantic poetry of Rumi and Hafiz makes clear, union with the Beloved.
Contrary to dulling our experience of the world, the practices of Buddhism bring us into exquisite awareness of what we perceive and are in fact acts of love most intimate.