Posted by: madhyama | January 4, 2011

Karma is a Beach

A friend of mine volunteers to walk certain west coast beaches, gathering data about  dead birds.  It turns out that some beaches routinely accumulate many dead birds while other beaches rarely produce a dead bird to count.  The volunteer cohort  call the beaches with large dead bird counts an “accumulation zone”; that is, a complex configuration of many factors having to do with fluid dynamics, interaction with the beach and bird behaviour which deposit bird carcasses on some beaches and eschew others.

In Zen we often talk about the habits of body, speech and mind.  We have multitudes of mind/body habits; at least as many as there are birds in the sky.  Each habit is really a relatively stable ‘cloud’ of more basic reflexes.  Jealousy, for example, is a habitual response to a cluster of other, interacting, primal factors such as fear, need, refuge, ill will, delight etcetera.  This brings to mind my friend’s ‘accumulation zone’ for bird carcasses.  The interplay of causes and conditions will always involve certain causal clusters and each dysfunctional habit of mind and body is like a beach with many dead birds.  Ancient fear is a dead bird.  Ancient hatred is a dead bird.  Even joy and delight can be a dead bird.

The wise walk mindfully the beaches of their jealousy, their antipathy or their deep craving and, like my friend does on behalf of the government, identify the birds and describe the carcass.

Here’s a common and practical example; relationships often resemble a beach strewn with the avian choir invisible.  Some of those spiritual dead birds are  large and compelling presences, others not so much.  But past a certain point the beach becomes unpleasant.  In any life, major traumatic events or familial abuse can literally perfume every aspect of relationship, very often in ways that block happiness and cause harm.

All stressful situations would improve if we were more accustomed to walking the beaches of our relationships.  We would find some beaches almost pristine and others quite littered, not only with dead birds but also all the other detritus from the sea.  We would carefully note and examine each washed up artifact, starting with the dead birds and later cataloging the driftwood and the beach glass.  Finally, one would become quite familiar with the types of flotsam (habits of mind and body) that accumulate.  Armed with this deep knowledge one could then begin to mitigate harm and maybe even enjoy the wonder of the land / sea interface.

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