“Do not view mountains from the scale of human thought”
– Dogen Zenji
This week I was fortunate enough to be able to take an afternoon off and drive up to Mount St. Helens. As those of you who live in this area know, it is a spectacular drive and the views from the observatory towards the volcano are breathtaking. It has been over four months since I had ventured further than a few miles from my house, so this trip was both refreshing and exciting. To be outside again with such a reminder of the power and majesty of nature was thrilling.
It has been forty years since the mountain erupted, changing the landscape beyond recognition and taking fifty-seven lives with it. Looking out over the mountain brings an incredible conflicting feeling of peace as we look out over such destructive - and regenerative - power.
We often use mountains as metaphors of permanence, and yet we see from St. Helens that they are far from permanent. They can be destroyed catastrophically, as St. Helens was, or they can erode naturally. There's even a good Pali word for that - a kalpa is a timespan longer than the time it would take a mountain to erode completely if an eagle brushed it with it's wings once a century! Whether through eruptions, erosion or other means, even our mountains are impermanent.
We can learn from mountains when we turn our thoughts back to our meditation. The Zen master Dogen is reported to have said that as we meditate we should have a "Body like the Mountain, Heart like the Ocean, Mind like the Sky." Meditation on these qualities in our practice can be very powerful.
Sometimes we can think that having a 'sky-like mind' means having a mind that is still and free from any activity. While it is wonderful when we experience those still moments, that isn't really what it is all about. It is about having a mind that is clear enough that when things arise we can observe what is arising, whatever they may be. The Buddha says:
“Develop a mind that is vast like space, where experiences both pleasant and unpleasant can appear and disappear without conflict, struggle or harm. Rest in a mind like vast sky.”
From the Majjhima Nikaya, as rendered by Jack Kornfield
We have linked below a fully guided meditation on having a Sky-Like Mind. A few of us have committed to press 'play' together at 7pm PT on Sunday 26th July. You can of course listen at any time, but you are welcome to join us then too.
Wishing you all a peaceful week, Chris.
P.S. For sci-fi fans, there is a fantastic Doctor Who episode that riffs on the notion of a kalpa - you can find the trailer here.
P.P.S. The Jack Kornfield article used in the linked audio meditation can be found here.
If the above player doesn't work for you please click here.
Photo by Chris Robson, July 2020