It was unseasonably beautiful out on Wednesday in Atlanta. I took full advantage and made sure I carved out the time for extra walking outside. I got home, changed and hit the streets of my neighborhood. I was filled with gratitude for the great weather and neighborhood walk, but I was also extremely happy to be getting back to my routine which has been sporadic lately due to travel and weather.
The subject of enlightenment is one of those strange topics that make people uncomfortable. Some people brag about having "gotten" it, which tends to make me think they haven't. Some demur when the subject comes up, which makes me wonder if they have. And most describe enlightenment as the present moment. Thich Nhat Hanh has said that enlightenment is simply being present. He says that "Small enlightenment lead to large enlightenment." Other teachers I've read and learned from say that enlightenment, or "enlightenment experiences", are when you gain true understanding of something you previously understood only as logic. That it's all a gradual process of deeper understanding. Specifically, for this post, I thought of Brad Warner when he talked of what might be considered his own enlightenment experience in "Hardcore Zen". He said:
"I was walking to work along the Sen-gawa River, just like I did every day, when in an instant everything changed... ...But I can't really recall anything unusual, I was just walking to work."Well, it was this deeper understanding that hit me like a bolt on Wednesday! I was walking along, practicing my favorite walking meditation. I was in the middle of some gratitude sayings, or prayers if you will, about my family when I got to my Dad. I have this habit of listening to the sounds around me when I think of my Dad. I listen for the "jazz" in the sounds around me. The solo, I guess you'd say. I listen for the part my Dad would be playing if the sounds around me were his band. There's always something that rises out of it. It's the lead sounds I'm listening for, never the rhythm. Not the sirens, or cars, or cicadas. It's usually the barking dogs, or kids playing or birds singing. The things that aren't redundant.
Anyhow, I guess my mind wandered for a second while I was listening for the jazz, when I slowed to a complete stop and stood there with my mouth agape. Then - and this is where I won't be able to do a very solid job of explaining it - I suddenly gained an insight. A clear, deep(er?) understanding of Shunyata. And it came from relating it to music. I realized that Music is not found in the notes, nor the space between them. It's both. Notes are spaces, spaces are notes. Form is Emptiness, Emptiness if Form.
Now, this doesn't sound like any sort of great revelation and I've logically understood Shunyata (Emptiness) for some time now, but there is a difference between logical understanding and a true, deep understanding. Most teachers I've read tend to describe "enlightenment moments" as achieving a deeper understanding than a "common logical" understanding on a subject. They also caution, almost universally, not to get caught up in them and that they are no big deal. But, as this happened to me, I suddenly gained a true deep understanding of emptiness and interbeing that spiraled through my mind starting with jazz.
I simply can not explain it better than that, but I guess the shortest way I can try is to say that it was like I had a little idea about how music is a great analogy for Shunyata. And then from that thought, it was like a doorway cracked open. I peeked through, and got an even better look at the idea and how it related to Shunyata. And that was when the door swung wide and I really grasped it all.
Then, as Brad Warner described so well in his book, I walked through the door, and kept going on about my business. There's really nothing else you can do.
I feel I've done a really terrible job of explaining this. Almost to the point that I don't feel this was even a worthwhile post. But, hopefully, someone out there will understand it. Maybe, with any luck, someone might even benefit from this sub-par explanation. But most of all, the point of this post is not about Shunyata at all. It's about Meditation and why a daily meditation practice is so important. I've been doing this 28 Day Meditation Challenge to help some friends of mine kickstart a daily meditation practice. When I try to explain to them the benefits of practice, they are so numerous, varied and wide-ranging that it gets hard to explain concisely. This sort of stair-step deepening of understanding of the Dharma is one of the greatest benefits of meditation.
If anyone out there has any similar experiences, I would really love to hear about them publicly or privately. Anyone? Anyone?