Last evening we launched into sesshin with the good folk at the Empty Sky Sangha in West Cornwall, Connecticut. I am leading it along with Doug Phillips & Mary Gates, two Zen teachers (and deeply interesting, also full qualified Vipassana teachers) whom I adore.
I put this small reflection on the timer for Friday morning. After this I will be silent until sometime on Monday.
As it happens today marks the Miracle of the Sun, an event that took place on the 13th of October in 1917 in Fatima, Portugal. Three children claimed that Mary told them she would appear and perform miracles on that day. And, indeed, some 70,000 people arrived and say they say they saw something. Well, a bunch of somethings, mostly featuring the sun dancing in the sky.
People who have no dog in that particular hunt suggest it is more than unlikely that anything involving the sun occurred. If for no other reason, no-one not at Fatima corroborates the event, and well, near everyone on one half of the globe who is outdoors and looking up sees the sun at any given moment. The most common explanation for what people saw is a pareidolia, a “psychological phenomenon in which the mind responds to a stimulus, usually an image or a sound, by perceiving a familiar pattern where none exists.”
Here in Connecticut, I am now launched into a spiritual practice that calls for lowering sensory stimulus significantly, stting quietly for half hour periods over pretty much entire days, looking down at the floor or at a wall. I’ve done this a lot. And over the years I have experienced several things that fit the pareidolia description. Of course, being expert in what can happen, the sure guidance of the Zen teachers is that when such things arise, don’t worry, they will go away.
And, of course, the truth is we’re doing this filling in the picture all the time. It is the stuff of human brains. And, whether we worry or not, whether we cling or let go, they will in time go away. Just like all things made of parts. Just like you and me. Although I have noticed our stories sometimes linger longer than our bodies.
And then there are the practices, like Zen.
If we suspend our need to judge, either to confirm or to deny, and instead simply allow ourselves a moment of presence, old things vanish, and, you bet, new things appear. But they don’t have quite the strangle hold they might otherwise have. We use the stories rather than find ourselves used by them.
This freedom happens as we notice the space between our thoughts. Instead of inflicting something on the universe, by being still and noticing, often patterns of the connected heart are revealed.
We in fact can find moments when the stars dance for joy.
In my life sesshin, these days devoted to long sitting, just sitting, just taking the koan into our hearts, just being human takes us right into the heart of those dancing stars.
The meeting of hearts. The dance of the worlds.