The Difference of a (Pelican) Moment

March 24, 2021

You don’t have to be in a temple to capture a Zen moment. Watching the playful pelicans diving for fish amidst the choppy Caribbean waves this morning, surrounded by the mysterious acoustics of the vast ocean and the dramatic silence of the mind is as Divine as it gets. Try to start your day with a calm mind I always say. If you can’t don’t worry, don’t be attached! Sometimes I think an argument with a lover might be the more useful teaching!

Tulum, Mexico

Whilst in awe of this magnificent vista, I’ve been reading some of Natalie Goldberg’s reflections on her life as a writer in The Great Spring. Her advice is almost personal to me as a fellow student of Zen and writer* myself.

Her Zen teacher, Katagiri Roshi, gave her 3 pieces of advice, which could be applied to meditation, writing or quite frankly anything.

1.Write under all circumstances.

2. Don’t be tossed away [tenacity].

3.Make positive effort for the [greater] good.

My own Zen teachers, in a different lineage but in the same great family of Zen, gave similar guidance to me. And I now pass this on to others in my own way.

And then for the Spirit of her writing Natalie cites Jack Kerouac’s List of Essentials in Belief and Teaching for Modern Prose :

1. Accept loss forever.

2.Be submissive to everything, open, listening.

3.No fear or shame in the dignity of your experience, language or knowledge.

4.Be in love with your life.

Goldberg eloquently points out the infinite potential of the marriage of Katagiri and Kerouac, discipline and mystery.

As I sit here observing this beautiful moment a powerful revelation strikes me. Whilst I’ve written on and off my whole life, I’ve spent the last 28 years doing everything but be true to myself and embrace being a writer. I say this even as I have spent the last few months working on a book and indeed writing has been part of my entire career – but perhaps merely a sideshow, never a main dish. It’s a very shocking realisation. If I observed this in a client or student I would be very quick to point it out. How can a person spend decades doing everything to avoid a calling? The fear was so subtle I even brought it into the heart of my life and still placed it on the periphery.

And yet, I look at these two beautiful lists – and although I read them for the first time today – they are incredibly familiar. By chance life has brought these energies into my life, the Zen from living in Japan and the East, and the Heart of life, which came from the joys and pains of the human odyssey.

Whilst writing this I feel like my heart has been broken open to a tragic yet joyous truth and tears stream down my salty face. A revelation 25 years too late, or happily on time?

A moment is all we ever have. What do we do with it. Are we present to that which surrounds us? And now what will I do with this one realisation?

I look at the pelicans for some last inspiration before I move on with my day. Zen Masters flourishing in their mastery of time ; they either float carefree in the air above the white water of the breaking waves or they plunge for their prey like ocean warriors. Never though, do they let go of this one and only moment.