The changing scenes of autumn.
I have said enough of moonlight, ask me no more;
Only listen to the voice of pines and cedars when no wind stirs."
Ryonen, Zen nun in 1863
I have actually only seen the changing scenes of autumn forty-one times so far but I, like millions before me, see the world with Ryonen's own eyes through this, one of her last poems. I read this translation, I have no idea in what book, when I was eighteen and had just started practicing spiritual discipline. It seemed to me then that I still had a lot to say about moonlight, but I mentally reserved the right to have said enough of it at some point as well, especially if I could commemorate the transition with a poem like that.
Her words came back to me this morning as I was thinking about my brother's latest blog (Black Mountain River - poem by Tom Hirons at coyopa.blogspot.com) and considering the various different merits of expressing a moment in words, pictures or silent meditation. There is something very meditative about the flow of his poem, (I actually couldn't resist trying to put it to music) and it made me consider the many millions of moments of inspiration that occur during meditation; some progressing on to be manifested in a further act of art and some to be lovingly stored, pristine, in the great silence itself. I imagine a giant pile of blissfully inspirational moments and myself lying, Smaug-like, on top of them. I can never consider them wasted moments, as they are still part of me and constitute a large part of my current consciousness, but they are an invisible hoard, and so cannot be enjoyed by others in the same way as a poem, a piece of art or a song. We often have to choose between adding to that silent treasure and the actual expression of an idea. I once waited a long time for a friend to finish a race just so that I could take a photo, and then when I saw the look on their face as they crossed the finish line I had to see it and remember it rather than separating myself from it with the lens of a camera. I still have the image in my memory; it's probably not the same image, as we tend to elaborate and then we end up invoking the memory of a memory of a memory, but when I feel it with my heart I get the same smiling experience I did in those original seconds. I have some photographs that meant a lot to me at the time I took them but that I have grown away from over the years; this image has grown with me as I change and so it is still good for me.
"I step into the water, leaving Summer's gold and laughter, like a man baptised into a luminous darkness."
He describes the change of pace from one state to another, and suggests that the dark river of autumn is a blessed place of stillness, introspection and regeneration, rather than a slippery slope towards the end of days, as it often seems to me. I have to admit that instead of using it as a time for reflection on and celebration of the fruits of Mother Nature, I usually experience it in it's aspect of penultimateness (if there is such a word) and it's promise that ice, oblivion and death will be coming soon.
Now that I am living in a mediterranean climate, however, (yes, yes, I promise not to go on about it) I may have to revise my seasonal uneasiness. As I was splashing about in the sea the other day and watching children playing with kites on the beach, I thought I might be able to get to grips with Autumn here. The perimeter is smaller, the sense of martyrdom and suffering pretty much nil, and if you are lucky, and a little bit brave, you can still be in the sea until the end of November.
Is Autumn in the south of France the ushering in of the next Ice Age and the beginning of the end? Or simply an extension of the icecream season and a reminder to don shorts and t-shirt instead of swimwear... In the next few weeks I will be endeavouring to answer this question.