Picking myself up, I brushed off the dust and small stones, the leaves and broken twigs, then returned to my starting place near the big stringybark tree.
I suffered no injury, felt no discomfort from the fall. Only the pain of yearning.
Facing down the hill, diagonally, to the right, following an invisible path across the concrete driveway and onto the lowest expanses of the front lawn, I stood quietly for a few moments, gathering all my powers of concentration.
I focussed intently on the landing area — for that it was, since I so rarely achieved take-off. The place where frequent experience said that my little legs would carry me to maximum velocity. I shut out every thought. Concentrated every fibre of my being, solely on believing. Then, I broke into a sprint.
Faster. FASTER. FASTER!
Leaping forward … and upward … with all the remaining energy that a five year old at full sprint can muster, head first, chin up, back arched, chest proud, legs together, arms thrust out with palms downward, in mimicry of the wings of an eagle, for the merest split of a second it seemed that I might soar.
But at that critical moment, my concentration failed.
Once more a thought had dared to trespass. Just then. In mid-air. On the cusp. Breaking through, to close off that brief opening in time. That fleeting opportunity.
Again, again, and again, I raced to the bottom of the hill and hurled my body up and out and on to the hard ground. Again, again, and again, in the very moment of flight, a stray thought reached out, shattered my concentration, and plunged me back to earth.
“You can do it!”
“You can’t do it.”
Rarely, came success. Rising surely and turning swiftly — for the trees bordering the road were barely 10 metres away — I soared in spiralling orbit, climbing above the treeline.
In these moments following take-off, I always experienced something that, it must be said, far surpasses the capacity of words to fully and accurately convey. An indescribable calm joy, and yet, one mixed with a kind of trepidation. A sense of the need, nay, the requirement, for absolute reverence. An awareness; a Knowing; that all this now, this “place”, this state, was most delicate, most exquisite, most subtle; like the glittering of the purest, most perfectly faceted diamond; a brilliance that may be extinguished in a moment by the casting of a shadow; that as easily, swiftly, and without any act from me as it had come, similarly then, that in the presence of any shadow of “me” it might as easily and swiftly depart once again. A profound awareness, that I must not do any thing, think any thing; only fly.
Or, more correctly to say, only continue to allow “me” to be carried.
What was the secret? The difference between fall, and flight?
At the critical moment … Acceptance.
A giving up.
A letting go.
A letting go of every thing.
All hows. All whats. All ifs.
No thought of mechanics. No thought of forms.
No words. No labels.
No doubts. No certainties.
In accepting all things, all things dissolved.
In letting go all things, all weights fell away.
And that which remains — the Great, Infinite, Timeless, Inexpressible NoThing — “It” carried me up.
When “It” wanted to.
My role, my purpose, then, only to be prepared. Patiently waiting.
To be, continually, if necessary, running down my hill and presenting myself — ready — in mid-air. In that place of highest risk; the nexus of rise or fall. At the apex, in the leap of faith.
In a conscious sense of powerless-ness; of surrender. Of giving complete consent, to whatever may come; or, not come.
On those nights when I flew — for this recollection, you may have surmised, is of a recurring dream; the only one I can still recall; one long left behind in early childhood — I discovered that the longer I simply let “It” carry me, the higher and further I flew. The higher and further I flew, the more that all “things” below — things seen and heard, smelled, tasted, or touched, and, even the memory of them — grew distant and “grey” to me, the easier flying became. That is to say, the acute sense of how easily any act of “me” would cause “It” to recede and “me” to descend; or, as at times, suddenly, almost instantly, have me grounded once again, returning to my mark at the top of the hill near the big stringybark tree; that sense, it slowly receded, the higher I ascended.
I was reminded of all this recently, when, on the final day of our touring by motorcycle together in the NSW-Victoria border region, and more particularly, in the Kosciuszko National Park — Australia’s highest mountain — my friend Rob kindly offered to loan me his copy of an excellent little book titled “Zen in the Art of Archery”, by Eugen Herrigel. First published in 1953, it is the personal account of a German philosopher who came to Japan and there took up the practice of archery.
Herr Herrigel recounts with a simple vividity his struggles to “attain” the goal of what is, in Japan, in a traditional sense, not a sport, but rather, a religious ritual:
“Day by day I found myself slipping more easily into the ceremony which sets forth the ‘Great Doctrine’ of archery, carrying it out effortlessly or, to be more precise, feeling myself being carried through it as in a dream. Thus far the Master’s predictions were confirmed. Yet I could not prevent my concentration from flagging at the very moment when the shot ought to come. Waiting at the very highest tension not only became so tiring that the tension relaxed, but so agonizing that I was constantly wrenched out of my self-immersion and had to direct my attention to discharging the shot. ‘Stop thinking about the shot!’ the Master called out. ‘That way it is bound to fail.’ ‘I can’t help it,’ I answered, ‘the tension gets too painful.’
‘You only feel it because you haven’t really let go of yourself…’
One day I asked the Master: ‘How can the shot be loosed if “I” do not do it?’
‘”It” shoots,’ he replied.
‘I have heard you say that several times before, so let me put it another way: How can I wait self-obliviously for the shot if “I” am no longer there?’
‘”It” waits at the highest tension.’
And who or what is this “It”?’
‘Once you have understood that, you will have no further need of me…'”
Reading this, I was reminded not only of my childhood recurring dream, but also of two little aphorisms that, shall we say, came, to my nom de plume ‘The Blissful Ignoramus’, four years ago, out of the blue, while meditating by a lake:
I Don’t Know why we strive after certainty.
I do know, God waits for us in No Man’s Land.
I Don’t Know why we struggle after certainty.