“Pity the man who has lost his heart and does not know how to recover it. When people’s dogs and fowls are lost, they go to look for them, and yet, when they have lost their hearts, they do not go to look for them. The way of learning is none other than finding the lost heart.”
–The Book of Mencius, 6A:11; 371-289 BCE
The acrid piercing scent of roasting espresso beans wafted across the wet air. I strolled wordlessly through the dark alleys and stairways, looking askance at buildings now torn down, tattered fences and barren plots. A branch tangled in powerlines balanced and trembling in the early morning wind seemed like it floated there, but was a remnant of a tree now torn down. Change is easy to see through the campus of the public university, yet I still stroll at dawn, covered in flourdust, satchel held in one hand, watching the sky and its movements.
I sit down for a second on my journey, the pavement cool against my thigh. For a moment I reflect on the idea that blogging or journaling is a narcissistic endeavor. I try to step back further enough from the concept to see some of its roots and causes, and feel that this wide brush with which I was painted also held other colors- accusations that I was too self-denying, masochistic, devoting myself so fully, giving myself away so completely, that it was sad and unhealthy. I must be able to look clearly at such criticisms, but at the same time I must see their contradictions and absurdities. The only two things that they have in common is that they constantly come from the same people, and they are thoroughly destructive. Everything else is absurdly contradictory. If I am resented for being hot, so be it, but if I am simultaneously resented for being cold, I must remember that the resentment itself is really the problem, not me.
Across the parking lot was a small cemetery. I looked at its old trees and stone and drifted into the memory of my first experiences of the mountains. The cool air, the achingly sweet smell of verdant green forest, the brutal gnarl of ancient white oak and lichen in a biting churn of cliffside windgush. The low clouds, the fog. Was there a valley down there or not?
This memory took me back even further, when as a child I watched dust motes drift through afternoon sunbeams in my parents’ den, imagining each one a planet, each one dancing across the light, alone but alongside others. This was a shadowed sense; a perception only there if I put my self to the side, out of the way. Like the swirls of a tree bough spiraling through a streetlight at night. Like staring at something openly until it is seen clearly, in all its manifestations and possibilities. Like hearing a secret language whispered by insects in the woods, their pauses significant, as if waiting to make sure the hearer got the message. Like sitting by a creekbank until faint voices can be heard through the bubbles and splashes of current.
And who is the hearer of such things? What sort of mysterious transformation propelled me from the child in the photo to a grown man in black boots, hands now worn and calloused from their labor? The prominent commonality is a sense of play, a shadowed, subtle thing, shining as I pull bread from the oven and thump it down, hearing the crackle of the crust; shining as I sit and daydream alone at dawn, manifold awe in sky, pavement, stone and wood; shining as a lovely old tune is rediscovered, cradled in my body as I listen intently with headphones. The secret to all of this is a sense of play, coursing through my body, imagination seeing magic everywhere. Even the silent meditation leads back through these shadowed senses, sights and sounds, smells and textures almost missed, as delicate as a forest cobweb sprinkled with dew.
When the insects pause, when the stones become clouds, when water becomes a voice, no justice or logic, no validation or reciprocation is necessary. This is the awe of the mystery of existence itself. The shadowed senses beckon, and I indulge in their playfulness with a quiet smile, and a heart reclaimed once more.