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Spiritual Practice and Self


"In dwelling, be close to the land.
In meditation, go deep in the heart."
Tao Te Ching (trans. Feng and English)

A key to writing is observation, the continual practice of sharpening one's perception of the world and experience.

"Shasei," the technique that Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902) advocated involved an observation of the external world. Shiki felt that since the external world was always changing that the variety of scenes would keep the tanka interesting just as Monet's changing gardens would attract the viewer. Indeed the verse created by this technique can be interesting, but the problem is it doesn't engage us deeply into the artist's internal state and consequently into the connection between man and nature's experience.

"Our perception of nature is relative to the quality of mind or attention that serves as our instrument of cognition. We see only things, entities, events; we do not directly experience the forces and laws that govern nature and the cosmos....A mind governed by desires can perceive only the world of appearance. What exists behind these appearances can be known only by the mind that exists behind the desires in ourselves."

"Introduction" by Jacob Needleman to Tao Te Ching (p.xviii)

As a teacher of Western literature, I have always been drawn to the works of writers like Toni Morrison, William Faulkner, James Joyce, etc. These writers use stream of consciousness and shifting viewpoint as methods of "engaging" their readers into the narrative and characters. Instead of passively reading a narrative, one must search for the reality, the truth, the motivations because the author doesn't tell us.

Similarly, modern waka asks the writer and reader to become "engaged" in the poetic process. Instead of simply describing the external world, modern waka is about exploring the external world of nature and the internal world of the writer. The reader is asked to make the connection between the two experiences, in essence, to transcend the world of appearances into the "forces and laws" that govern both man and nature's reality. This is spiritual practice based on Eastern philosophy and practice but open to all regardless of their religious orientation.

The practice of observation results in a perceptual change. Not only does the ability to see greater detail in the external world become strengthened, but the ability to see the external and internal world in new and more intimate ways becomes greater.

The snow
In the spaces between hedge trees
Drifting, drifting;
How angry I become
At obstacles in my Path!

Donna Ferrell