Here there be dragons.

Dragons Gate is situated atop a high waterfall that cuts from the legendary Longmen mountains above the Yellow River at Hunan.

Carp that have endured the difficult and treacherous journey upstream are faced with this final leap of faith at the gate.
Those who succeed are transformed into dragons.

Dragons have always held a special place in Chinese mythology. Known as Lung, they are closely associated with the power and fertility of water, and are often used to symbolise courage, perseverance and accomplishment.

Seiko (Yeh Kung-tzu) and the dragon.
Yeh Kung-tzu was a man who loved dragons. He studied dragon lore and decorated his home with paintings and statues of dragons. He would talk on and on about dragons to anyone who would listen. One day a dragon heard about Yeh Kung-tzu and thought, how lovely that this man appreciates us. It would surely make him happy to meet a true dragon. The kindly dragon flew to Yeh Kung-tzu’s house and went inside, to find Yeh Kung-tzu asleep. Then Yeh Kung-tzu woke up and saw the dragon coiled by his bed, its scales and teeth glittering in the moonlight. And Yeh Kung-tzu screamed in terror. Before the dragon could introduce himself, Yeh Kung-tzu grabbed a sword and lunged at the dragon. The dragon flew away.

Many of us (note to self) fall into the trap of becoming infatuated with the idea of spiritual accomplishment and self transformation in our zen practice. It is easy to decorate ourselves with the accoutrements of practice and hang memorised quotes out as banners displaying our knowledge.

But when faced with the reality of actually leaping to meet the face of our dragon we can only scream and drive it away.

To love the dragon is to finally recognise a love of our own true selves. That is why the dragon came to Seiko.

I think we all face a choice to make the final leap at Dragons Gate.
We must all come to a true understanding that the scales of the carp are already the scales of the dragon.

Featured image via dianham

Turning moments. 

I recently came across this eloquent post from John Tarrant a meditation teacher who was born in Tasmania:

“The first thing about really having your own creative life is not thinking you know what you are, not thinking what you are already thinking. This comes from making space, from not knowing, from playing.
We are living and making a work of art at the same time. The work of art is what we do, it’s also who we are. We ourselves are the work we are making.
Sometimes are just walking along and the world becomes real and beautiful. The bird calls, the face of a child, the lights in the rain, step forward. When we have difficulties we forget these moments of beauty but they are just as real as any difficulties we might have. Even the plain moments of life have infinite depth.
In Zen these glimpses are called turning moments because they turn us to face a new direction. And the poetry or koans that evoke such moments are called turning words.
And what do we discover? That we weren’t doing it wrong, that there is a happiness deep inside both the oldest and youngest things. Nothing is missing. Even when we think that the world has gone wrong, that thought has a light inside it, and expresses our unique life.
The turning moment is the creative moment, the time in which everything seems possible. The walls we have made fall down all at the same time.”

–John Tarrant

Dogs on beds. 

“Do not let your dog sleep on the bed.”

Advice well known to all dog owners.
Supposedly it is all about leadership power within the pack. Letting your dog sleep at the same level as you is said to be signaling an equal position in the pack hierarchy.

And for a short time I enjoyed ranking as alpha male status in the bedroom domain.
That was, until one cold, sleeting winter night when Kelly was away and Smudge was still a pup. He was supposed to sleep down in the laundry. He had his own basket with his favorite blanket. A cozy canine nest.
Only it was winter. And he looked up at me with the empty lugubrious eyes of an infarcting spirit. I felt sorry for the little guy.
I lifted him up onto the bed.

He embraced his new-found promotion by ecstatically stretching out on his back, splaying his legs (to occupy maximum bed real-estate), and releasing a long luxuriating yawn.
All scrunched up over to one side of the bed I had first inkling of my error.

Several hours later, the snoring and farting (his, not mine ), and getting pushed to the very outer lip of the mattress put the matter beyond question.

15,000 years ago, somewhere in central Asia, man began interacting very closely with Smudges distant fore-bearers, the Grey Wolf (Canis Lupus).
The long process of this domestication remains controversial but these first ancestors of today’s estimated 400 million dogs (Canis lupus familiaris) were probably used as combination hunting and herding aids, companions, warning alarms, sled pullers and even food sources.
The nature of 15,000 years of close interaction has produced a special close relationship between man and dog that probably does not exist between any other two species.

But as this close bond developed between the species, is there any evidence that we have actually slept with our dogs?

Emily Toffe wrote in an article for Slate magazine:

“There is historical evidence that sleeping with pets is not necessarily aberrant behavior. According to The International Encyclopedia of Dogs, the xoloitzquintli, or Mexican hairless, was used in pre-Aztec Mexico as both pet and bed warmer (and dinner—let’s not talk about that here). An account from a 19th-century explorer in Australia, as quoted in The Domestic Dog, describes how Aborigines were so devoted to their dingoes that the dogs were treated as members of the family and allowed to sleep in the hut. (The rock group Three Dog Night takes its name from the supposed Aboriginal practice of judging the coldness of an evening by the number of dogs required to keep warm.)”

Ever since that first invitation to join us, Smudge has spent almost every night on our bed. Except for those mid summer heatwaves when he seeks the coolness of the bathroom tiles.

Each evening he follows his now well worn routine.
Just after 7PM, he gets up form the couch, goes over to his bowl and scoffs down the remainder of his biscuits (which he routinely sets aside for just this supper snack).
Next, he noisily drinks his fill from the water bowl, and spends a few minutes in a snorting contemplation deciding which of his soft toys he will choose to bed.

And off he trots. Without so much as a “goodnight guys”.
Later, we will find him asleep, just like a human, under the covers with his little head on one of our pillows and his paw across his green caterpillar or his fuzzy bear.
Simply way too cute to assert my evolutionary alpha-superiority over.

For Smudge, there is absolutely no issue with the academics of nocturnal altitude and hierarchy. He will lose no sleep contemplating the finer points of family dominance.

For him, it is just another Two Human Night.

Autumn tea.

Listening to the tunk, tunk, tunk of a large crow hopping on the roof tiles.
Down to the drainpipe, where it pauses to scrape its beak, before tunking back up to the ridge-cap.

Flip back the covers and down to the kettle.

Not wanting to turn on any lights, I pause before the single deep step in the hallway, to feel forward with my toes for its widow-maker edge.

It is still dark outside, false dawn curled back by a powdering of autumn prophecy.

Through the kitchen window I can just make out the green greyscale shapes of the nearest wattle tree, its branches waterlogged and low from the overnight rain. Beneath the tree lies the bucket shadow of an overturned flowerpot, dragged from its usual place to the center of the lawn by my crazy dog.

Beyond this, the world seems wrapped in a cool, flannelette inertia, and in sympathy I choose tea rather than coffee, flipping the bag from the box into the cup with a propeller flourish that I could not possibly execute were I not half asleep.

Autumn is my favourite time, as it slows to the pace of chocolate browns and mustard yellows, and wet leaf mulch and silver slug trails, and sweet woodsmoke song.

Short, crisp, sun soaked days that demand to be enjoyed before they dim down into the long freezing bland of winter.

I stand before the full length window and sip hot tea. Holding the cup just below my lips, the rising steam warms my face.

For a long while I just stand there on the chilly tiles looking out at a pale autumn ghost ageing, unassured, standing in underpants, out amongst the garden dawns.

Questions Before Dark


” As this day ends, and before sleep
when the sky dies down, consider
your altered state:
has this day changed you?
Are the cornerssharper or rounded off?
Did youlive with death?
Make decisions that quieted?
Find one clear word that fit?
At the sun’s midpoint did you notice a pitch of absence, bewilderment that invites
the possible?
What did you learn from things you dropped and picked up and dropped again?
Did you set a straw parallel to the river, let the flow carry you downstream?”

Jeanne Lohmann
The Light of Invisible Bodies

The Wait.


A beautifully crafted film following Belgian wildlife photographer Michel D’Oultremont as he displays both deep patience and presence in his work.

The film takes the viewer on a journey from Michel’s hometown in Belgium to the remote mountains of Romania. On the trail of wild bison, Michel tracks the movement of the animals and then waits for the perfect moment; a process that can take up to a week to capture one shot.