Yesterday I spent 1 hour and 48 minutes talking with Marie D'Elephant for a podcast that's scheduled to be released on February 4 via her Everyone's Autonomous Podcast site.
Here's the description of what D'Elephant is up to.
During the Everyone's Agnostic podcast from 2015-2019, we shared our stories of religious trauma and the pain of deconversion.
When that podcast went on a hiatus, a beautiful child was born: Everyone's Autonomous by Marie D'Elephant. She picks up the discussion by talking with guests and subject matter experts about how we can begin to move forward after having processed our toxic religious upbringings.
How do we regain autonomy over our minds and bodies, AND respect the autonomy of others? How do we rejoin the human race and participate in this chaotic experiment of existence?
Great questions. D'Elephant and I covered a lot of ground in our discussion. She's a skilled conversationalist, which made the almost two hours we talked fly by in a pleasant fashion.
Several times in the course of our talk I spoke about "First there is a mountain, then there isn't, then there is."
Today I met with an old friend for our usual Sunday afternoon coffee get-together. (We bring our own chairs and table so we can sit outside the Urban Grange coffee house in West Salem, even though both indoor and outdoor dining are prohibited right now because of Covid restrictions.)
When I mentioned the mountain saying to Jim, he said, "That was a Donovan song." Which I'd forgotten. The way Donovan put it in his 1967 song was "First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is." So I had it almost exactly right.
Before I had studied Chan (Zen) for thirty years, I saw mountains as mountains, and rivers as rivers. When I arrived at a more intimate knowledge, I came to the point where I saw that mountains are not mountains, and rivers are not rivers. But now that I have got its very substance I am at rest. For it's just that I see mountains once again as mountains, and rivers once again as rivers.
The way I described the saying in my conversation with D'Elephant was that initially we take the world as it appears to be. Then some people -- which included me for about thirty-five years of religiosity -- consider that the world is illusory in some sense, with really real reality residing in another realm.
That's how Plato viewed things. This world is shadows on a cave wall, while the sun of reality is only seen by those who turn around and seek the source of that light.
I used to be a Platonist, Eastern religion variety. No longer, though. I'm now content with mountains being mountains and rivers being rivers, the endpoint of Zen Buddhism.
Of course, I don't know how I came to this realization. I like to think that, like Qingyuan Xingsi, my thirty-plus years of meditation and other spiritual pursuits led me to pass through the then there is no mountain stage into the more refined then there is stage.
But another possibility is that I never really left the initial first there is a mountain stage, simply taking a lengthy side excursion through the land of perhaps there is something more without ever really viewing that territory as my home.
Regardless, I'm comfortable with there is a mountain, no matter how I got there.
After finishing up with D'Elephant and thinking about what we talked about, I realized that I forgot to mention one of my all-time favorite sayings. This is by poet David Ignatow.
I should be content
to look at a mountain
for what it is
and not as a comment on my life.