The still point

Mentioning Basho the other day sparked off some reflections in my mind. Basho is famous for his poetry – haiku – short 17 syllable poems which capture, as Seamus Heaney puts it,  ‘the still centre of the moment’. A rare art to be able to communicate in just a handful of words a moment, a scene and the emotion evoked. The small splash which breaks the silence of a pond, a crow on a branch, black on black in the deepening gloom, a temple bell in the still evening, shadows cast by the moon – fragments of time when something beyond time is caught and fixed forever in mind – the ‘still  point’.

 

I was reminded of one day when walking down to the town I heard someone hammering, the hard metallic ring of a chisel on stone. It is a very particular sound and it evoked memories, tactile memories of the heaviness of the hammer, the judder of the arm as it strikes, hot hands, the dust and distinctive smell of crushed stone. A whole series of moments in my past were suddenly recalled and linked together. A Proustian moment in which past and present co-existed. For that moment, the inevitability of the passage of time, the dying of the ‘now’ and its burial in the past ceased. And I wondered about the metaphysical significance  of memory and awareness. What does this linkage of things and events in awareness tell us about the nature of reality? And what about that subliminal sense of a transcendent presence?

T. S. Eliot wrestled with all this in ‘Burnt Norton’, and reading it again I become aware of how much in the poem describes the experience of meditation.

Descend lower, descend only

Into the world of perpetual solitude,

World not world, but that which is not world,

Internal darkness, deprivation

And destitution of all property,

Desiccation of the world of sense,

Evacuation of the world of fancy,

Inoperancy of the world of spirit;

 

There in the empty darkness, sometimes, the ceaseless cycle of thoughts, feelings and fantasies stills and one enters the still point. And the Presence…? Sometimes when I am out walking along the cliffs I feel afraid to go too near the edge. Not because I am afraid of heights. On the contrary. But because standing there on the edge looking down to the sea far below I feel drawn, a terrible attraction, to throw myself over, to feel the fall, the rush of air, the utter freedom of an irrevocable future. But timid fear keeps me back. And so it is with the Presence. 

 

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