Thich Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk now based in Plum Village, France. Both in Vietnam and around the world he has seen great suffering, and still he finds ways to feel peaceful in the present.
"Life is filled with suffering, but it is also filled with many wonders, like the blue sky, the sunshine, the eyes of a baby. To suffer is not enough. We must also be in touch with the wonders of life. They are within us and all around us, everywhere, any time.
"If we are not happy, if we are not peaceful, we cannot share peace and happiness with others, even those we love. If we are peaceful, if we are happy, we can smile and blossom like a flower, and everyone in our family, our entire society, will benefit from our peace. . . . Wherever we are, any time, we have the capacity to enjoy the sunshine, the presence of each other, even the sensation of our breathing. We don't need to go to China to enjoy the blue sky. We don't have to travel into the future to enjoy our breathing. We can be in touch with these things right now. It would be a pity if we were only aware of suffering.
"If a child smiles, if an adult smiles, that is very important. If in our daily life we can smile, if we can be peaceful and happy, not only we, but everyone will profit from it. This is the most basic kind of peace work."
pp. 3-5 in Being Peace by Thich Nhat Hanh
(Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press, 1987, 1996)
What do you think about the idea that we can be peaceful
and smiling at the same time we are aware of suffering?
This month's comments have generated an interesting range of experiences. Vicki can ride into a kind of flow by reading, and Maura can get there in the right kinds of meeting with people who share stories and ideas. Also, Maura says, by following a pride of lions at "another animal's pace." All these strategies contain the seed of the idea Isak Dinesen hints at in post 1A—that there can be pleasure in entering other worlds, where "things happen without any interference from" one's own side, "and altogether outside his control."
Pat's comment about having neither time nor interest in entering the kind of drift that might lead to flow has something in common with what Arthur Koestler says about himself just after he has written the sentence quoted in post 1C: Then I was floating on my back in a river of peace, under bridges of silence. It came from nowhere and flowed nowhere. . . . The I had ceased to exist.
Koestler says, "It is extremely embarrassing to write down a phrase like that when one has read The Meaning of Meaning and nibbled at logical positivism and aims at verbal precision and dislikes nebulous gushing." But his experience "floating in the universal pool" convinced him that "'mystical' experiences, as we dubiously call them, are not nebulous, vague or maudlin—they only become so when we debase them by verbalization."
"When I say 'the I had ceased to exist'," he continues, "I refer to a concrete experience that is verbally as incommunicable as the feeling aroused by a piano concerto, yet just as real—only much more real. In fact, its primary mark is the sensation that this state is more real than any other one has experienced before." Although Pat is too busy at the moment to find a way to explore this state, journalist Koestler's experience and psychologist Csikszentmihalyi's research suggest that someday finding flow might come as a pleasant surprise.
Rachel's idea that "determined will" tends to precede the dissolution of an artist's self-awareness and self-consciousness in the creative act matches well with Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's findings about the state of creative flow in general. Adequate skills to cope with challenges at hand, he says, and a general goal plus feedback about whether progress is being made seem to be part of what helps people arrive at the intense concentration imbued with a sense of harmony that characterizes creative flow.
Nevertheless, creativity is as diverse as creators, and Koestler's point is well-taken—that any experience with flow can be muddied when we try to put it into words. As the cliché goes, You had to be there. Still, words are what we use on this website, and Mary's story of dreaming beautiful curtains evokes a lovely sense of how "attention open and diffuse" can help us enter other worlds. Clearing out intention or expectation, she suggests, can open an individual's "creative energy to that which is beyond any individual."
Arthur Koestler would likely agree. He writes that "verbal trancriptions that come nearest" to describing his experience beside the window of cell no. 40 in Spain (see post 1C) are "the unity and interlocking of everything that exists, . . . The 'I' ceases to exist because it has, by a kind of mental osmosis, established communication with, and been dissolved in, the universal pool. It is this process of dissolution and limitless expansion which is sensed as the 'oceanic feeling', as the draining of all tension, the absolute catharsis, the peace that passeth all understanding."
Whether we arrive there by reading, sharing, painting, writing, dreaming, or floating in a dinghy, connecting with other worlds in this way is an experience to cherish.
from "A Shooting Accident on the Farm" in Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen
(NY: Vintage Books, Random House, 1972)
pp. 428-430 in The Invisible Writing by Arthur Koestler
(NY: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., 1954, 1969)
from "The Conditions of Flow" in Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience
by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (NY: HarperPerennial, 1991)
Thank you all for sharing your thoughts during this first month of the Explorations blog.
Next month's topic will be "peace."
I will start that off with a post about "Peaceful Borders"
on November 1st.
As a reader, I like essays and novels that are informed by ideas. Annie Dillard. Michael Ondaatje. I am hoping here to join others who feel the same. I look forward to thoughtful conversations!