I left the house at 5:30 to photograph the United States Hot Air Balloon Team in Bird-in-Hand. It was a beautiful, calm morning and I had an extra battery, a tripod and high hopes.
The balloon went from trailer to air in twenty five minutes and floated off into the sunrise. I took 50 photos that I knew I wouldn’t keep because I’ve seen it so many times before. Here in Lancaster, watching a hot air balloon is an ordinary thing, and even at dawn it seemed like nothing special.
I went home and as I walked towards my front door I noticed some tulips in the garden, took a few quick shots, then downloaded and deleted everything because they weren’t perfect. But I went back to look at the flowers, and this time I really looked (and photographed).
The photo isn’t perfect but the tulip definitely is. It opened within the last hour, will close at night, and by the end of the month it will be gone. I was looking for something amazing and walked right by it.
In her book Nothing Special, Charlotte Joko Beck talks about awareness. “We don’t have to try to develop awareness; we simply need to notice how we block awareness, with our thoughts, our fantasies, our opinions, and our judgments.”
I was looking for something special, something awe inspiring, and these flowers are as close to a miracle as I was going to find. You don’t have to go far to be inspired, you just have to be aware of the things that are right in front of you all the time.
You may have heard it said that our thoughts are not real, and you may have thought about it until you became as confused as Schrodinger’s cat. In Everyday Zen, Charlotte Joko Beck said that a thought in itself is just pure sensory input, an energy fragment. But wait, there’s more.
Eckhart Tolle spent almost two years sitting on park benches in what he says was a state of intense joy. So what was he thinking about all that time, and did he realize that his thoughts weren’t real?
Eventually he ran out of bird food or whatever and wrote an excellent book called The Power of Now, which began with a chapter called you are not your mind. He wrote: “To realize that you are not your thoughts is when you begin to awaken spiritually.”
But there is a difference between knowing that you are not your thoughts and knowing that thoughts are not real. A good example is when you see what looks like water on a hot road and you know that it’s not real, yet you still see it. You’re seeing an illusion; you can even take a photo of it, but it’s only an illusion.
The Buddha said: “A wise man, recognizing that the world is but an illusion, does not act as if it is real, so he escapes the suffering.” Yes, so tell me again about the imaginary cat in the box Erwin.
Maybe Albert Einstein had it figured out when he said: “Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.”
So are some thoughts real and others only partially real? Are there good thoughts and bad thoughts? What is the sound of one hand clapping? What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow? Who’s on first?
Lao Tzu said: “Stop thinking, and end your problems. What difference between yes and no? What difference between success and failure? Must you value what others value, avoid what others avoid? How ridiculous!”
The Razor’s Edge is a book by W. Somerset Maugham and its inscription reads, “The sharp edge of a razor is difficult to pass over; thus the wise say the path to Salvation is hard.”
Charlotte Joko Beck, author of Everyday Zen wrote: “When we walk the razor’s edge we’re not important; we’re no-self, embedded in life. This we fear-even though life as no-self is pure joy. Our fear drives us to stay over here in our lonely self-righteousness. The paradox: only in walking the razor’s edge, in experiencing the fear directly, can we know what it is to have no fear.”
“Still, it is necessary to acknowledge that most of the time we want nothing to do with that edge; we want to stay separate. We want the sterile satisfaction of wallowing in “I am right.” That’s a poor satisfaction, of course, but still we will usually settle for a diminished life rather than experience life as it is when that seems painful and distasteful.”
Put another way by Eckhart Tolle: “The whole essence of Zen consists in walking along the razor’s edge of Now – to be so utterly, so completely present that no problem, no suffering, nothing that is not who you are in your essence, can survive in you. In the Now, in the absence of time, all your problems dissolve. Suffering needs time; it cannot survive in the Now.”
So you gotta ask yourself one question, how soon is now?