The stars light my bread;
to follow the rhythm of things.
To make camp before dark,
to do as the world dictates-
a bed of leaves,
a depression kicked in cool earth
to fit the curve of the hip.
Sit, in the dark
let the eyes adjust.
Let the sound of water blend with the sound of wind;
one, separate, and one again.
Even a simple candle
now blinding, unnecessary
to bring my bread and cheese
out of the dark.
The simplicity of the haiku: I have never been interested in a syllable-count, but in the poetic beauty that can be expressed within a single breath. The “single breath” approach has always struck me as a more organic form.
Now I contemplate the freedive, a physical expression of what can be done, seen, experienced- all within a single breath.
Lungs compress, the heart rate slows, capillaries restrict blood to the limbs, and the mind fights, thrashes, chasing itself in circles, compelled in distinctly different directions; the life-preserving drive to breathe pitted against the desire not to.
When doing Kendo in Japan, I was invited to a dinner at the dojo in honor of a visiting master. While sitting at the table, eating, and drinking beer, he asked why I wanted to come to Japan. I mentioned my love of Japanese ceramics, my studies as a potter, and something about an interest in Zen Buddhism.
“Zen?” he asked. “I can teach you Zen.”
He instructed me stand and leave the table, leading me a few feet away to the main hardwood practice floor.
“Sit, on your knees, like this.” He carefully positioned my legs.
“Back straight, eyes slightly down, not opened, not closed. Hold your hands like this.” He positioned my hands and body.
“Good. Now stay there.” He walked away and joined the dinner party, greeted with laughter from the table.
I played along. I played along for a long time, likely longer than I should have. But this was a respected man and I didn’t want to move until he said so.
He returned, slapped me on the back of the head, and asked, laughing “How do you like Zen? Zen is hurting knees, hurting back, hurting neck. Want more Zen?”
I politely declined and was welcomed back to the table with more laughs and another round of beer.
Forty-five feet down, drifting weightless, to and fro in the surge of the tide.
Perhaps Zen is also swimming into the darkness while fighting the urge to breathe. Perhaps it is forgetting.