Birds are the Fish of the Sky-A letter to Sam

Birds are the Fish of the Sky-A letter to Sam

The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao

The name that can be named is not the eternal name
The nameless is the origin of Heaven and Earth
The named is the mother of myriad things

-Lao Tzu, the Tao Te Ching

Atamarie Sam:

Some time ago, perhaps a few years, you gifted me an introduction to the Tao Te Ching, and in doing so, shifted my perceptions. I filed it away for future study until I was ready to approach it. Then was not the time, for I was not ready. My blessings and gratitude for your friendship and love. Now, however, the Tao seems to be appearing more and more before me, daily even. So potentially it is time. Or it may be since all things are little more than and no less than possibilities. This letter then is a response to your gift.

Things are not what they seem.

Things are never what they seem. Perhaps what we think we see is the result of a cherished illusion, a play in which we have chosen to play a part. Perhaps (objective) reality is little more than a delayering of the mists in which we travel. Perhaps (objective) reality is just an illusion behind/beyond an immediate illusion. Perhaps in describing that which is, be it with pen, paint or camera, we are describing that which is not. Or we are not describing anything/any thing at all.

The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao.

A friend gifted me a story, a piece of wisdom told to her by another, who, no doubt, had it passed it on to her as the next daisy in the chain. It is attributed to the Waitaha people, who arrived here in Aotearoa numerous centuries before my Māori ancestors. It is almost a Zen koan, and it goes like this:

What if birds are the fish of the sky? Perhaps the world is truly upside down. Perhaps it is we who are upside down. And where is the reality? Is there such a state?

It is interesting how much we take for granted, how much we assume, and by extension, how much we agree to assume.

So, let us speak about it in physical terms for a moment. Biomedical science and the current laws of optics tell us that when we see something, it is because light reflected from or transmitted by that object travels towards our eyes and then passes through the lens. When it arrives at the retina, the image is upside-down. That data is then transmitted upside-down to the brain, where the mind processes it and turns it right-way-up-in the mind’s eye. Of course, because the mind is always looking to create meaning, some parts of that image will be magnified/zoomed and other parts reduced/ignored. Factor in such things as emotion, life experience, memory and genetics, and the composite conclusion is suspect at best. What is even more fascinating is how individuals collude to agree upon a common interpretation and assume that the other has the same mind-picture as them. Little wonder then that misunderstandings occur, for the language of communication – a form of mind picture-is itself prone to such collusion and assumption. It reminds me of that childhood story (probably mythical) about the verbal message being passed on. In the beginning, the general sends:  Send reinforcements. We are going to advance.  By the time that it has reached its destination, the officer and his troops on the front line, it has become: Send three and fourpence. We are going to a dance.

The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao.

As you know, I have been spending a lot of my time at my gallery. My outer world has shrunk to an area on the edge of my village about 300m in diameter (although my inner world is doing the opposite), and for now, as I wait for my waewae (legs) to heal, I am close to and able to be with the water. Each morning, I get up, and after karakia, I sit and watch the water. In the evenings, after everyone has left and I am the only one here, I will sit and watch the water and listen to what it wants to say. The river flows past my door, only five paces away, and there is a wonderful park bench only a few metres away, where I can be and open myself to inner instruction

In the early morning, the birds are ever present. The matuku (herons), stalk the shallows purposefully and cautiously, and above them, the terns wheel in the first rays of Te Ra (the sun), catching and distorting the edge of the light. When the fog is thick, you can sometimes see the helical patterns they carve from it and trail behind themselves. In the fog, they look like passing fish. And perhaps, if I could put my head underwater and hold my breath long enough, I would see the fish passing like shiny, silver birds. As I reflect upon it, it occurs to me that the only real difference between air, fog, and water is the space between the molecules. And thus, it is a simple step further to be able to imagine the world as upside down and inside out. Perhaps when I stand on the water, I am standing on the underside of the sky. I like that. Standing on the underside of the sky.

The named is the mother of myriad things.

Here is the lesson, I feel. We are taught from very early to participate in agreed collusion and illusion. Our training and discipline imposed upon us ensure compliance and, as we grow in years and the wares of Lethe wash away our pre-conception memories, I feel the quilts of confusion are piled upon us until eventually we capitulate and go to sleep. The path back to the reality of the womb is, I suspect far too arduous for most of us, and too uncomfortable to leave behind. Far easier then, to remain in a place where

The named is the mother of myriad things.

Than to journey back to that place where

The nameless is the origin of Heaven and Earth.

However, we all have that opportunity, and I cannot help feeling that if we were all to begin to delaminate the illusion of our existence on/in/under the belly of our mother, life on the Earth, would be more harmonious.

Anyway, enough. It is time for me to go and be a mosquito larva,  to stand up and stand on the upside of the surface film.

Blessings and Light

Nga mihi ki a koe

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