Yesterday Laurel and I enjoyed a pleasant coffee house conversation with David, a fellow churchless Salem resident who happened upon this blog. He emailed me a while back and we finally got together to chat about matters both mystical and material.
During deep “what’s it all about” talks like the one we had, I find it as interesting to hear what comes out of my mouth as what others have to say. Sometimes I spout out sentiments that surprise me, because if someone else were to utter them, I’d be inclined to think claptrap.
For example, I told David and Laurel, “More and more I’m wondering if there is any meaning-of-life problem that needs to be solved. Maybe my only problem is that I keep thinking there is a problem.”
As soon as those words left my lips I heard New Age platitude! echoing in my self-critical brain. Well, it could have just been the triple latte talking. Nonetheless, I do often say to myself, “Wu is the way.”
Wu-wei is the Taoist term for effortless doing. For most of us, acting takes action. But the Taoist ideal is wei-wu-wei: action without action (“wu” is a negative; “wei” means act or do).
David shared some fascinating stories about his thirty-odd years of spiritual journeying. He’s bounced back and forth between doing the Eastern thing, then the Western thing. Mystical experiences have come his way whichever side of the philosophical continental divide he was on.
Almost always, he said, those experiences were separate from the teachings he was studying or involved with at the moment. Something universal seemed to be what touched him, not a particularized manifestation of higher reality: Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, Jehovah, or whatever.
So now David is convinced that dogmas and theologies, as well as the organizations that promulgate them, stand between us and whatever truth may lie beyond the physical. These aren’t roads to reality; they’re barriers.
Remove all that and you’re left with just the Wu Way—the non-existent path that appears before you when there is nowhere else to go.
I think I’m on it right now. And when I stop thinking that, I’ll really be on it.
The key non-travel tip, according to wiser minds than my own, is keeping to the Wu Way when there is both something to do and nothing to do. I mean, it’s a lot easier to do nothing when you’re motionless than when you’re moving.
I’ve revealed that there isn’t much to reveal about my mystical experiences. However, if I dredge my memory back to when I was nine or ten, I can come up with a comic book-related story about what, if I stretch the definition of “mystical experience” to bursting, perhaps could qualify.
At an early age I had a vast comic book collection. That’s mostly what I spent my allowance on each week: those marvelous 10 cent windows into other worlds.
At my mother’s urging, I sold boxes and boxes of my comics for $50 (which now certainly would be worth hugely more), and bought, at my mother’s urging, a Civil War era rolltop desk. So the comics are gone now. All gone.
Except for a few memories. The most distinct is of a page that showed a band of travelers in a long-forgotten Earth era standing on the shore of an sea that stretches beyond the horizon. I can’t recall what sort of adventure they were on, but it was vitally important that they cross the sea.
Without a boat, how? They’re perplexed. Until one of them says, “The water is vanishingly near freezing. Any sort of disturbance will change it to another state.” He picks up a stone from the beach. Throws it into the water.
And, flash, the sea changes to ice. I can still see the frozen ripples radiating out until there was ice from beach to horizon. Then, dressed in their animal skins, the adventurers walk out onto the frozen surface.
D.T. Suzuki relates the story of a Zen adept:
My first koan was ‘Wu’. Whenever a thought was stirred in my mind, I lost no time in keeping it down, and my consciousness was like a cake of solid ice, pure and smooth, serene and undisturbed.
And that of another:
I was returning from an out-of-town trip and was about to climb a flight of stone steps, when the solid ice that had been clogging my brain for so long unexpectedly melted away, and I forgot that I was walking on the roadway.
Who also said, about his state before that experience:
My mental condition then was like the reflection of the moon penetrating the depths of a running stream the surface of which was in rapid motion, while the moon itself retained its perfect shape and serenity in spite of the commotion of the water.
There’s Wu in all of this, I’m sure of it. It’s just so damn difficult to discern that nothing. The more I look for it, the less evident it is. Eventually, I suspect, it’s going to dawn on me that I should just stay put and let that S.O.B. come to me.