One of the most peaceful places I find myself constantly traversing back to is the impenetrable darkness of the countryside. While that may sound depressing, morbid, and even downright strange, when you surrounded by such an impenetrable darkness, the stars shine with a multiplicity and magnitude that you can’t find near a populous. I’ve always erred on the nocturnal side of the day, and while it concerns some people, I think I finally understand why I find its call so alluring. In the Japanese Soto Zen Buddhist tradition there is a way of meditation known as Zazen. The only objective during this practice is objectivity itself; watch thoughts, feelings, and images pass by without ascribing judgement to it. In an interview with Shohaku Okumura, he recalls what his teacher, Master Dogen, said to him when he inquired as to what this was good for. Dogens’ reply was simple: “It is good for nothing.” While it may come off as satirical, the answer is as modest as the practice itself.
While I’m not outside cross-legged chanting a mantra, I find it easier to let things go under the gentle light of night sky. When you’re staring into the heart of an endless celestial sea, it puts things into perspective. I realize you could probably just look out your window to see the stars, but if you live in a quaint suburb or a sprawling metropolis, chances are you are only witnessing an insignificant fraction of what is above you. The clement light of the distant sky is fighting a losing battle with the lurid fluorescence of the desk lamp; like fighting a losing battle against yourself. We tend to only focus on what’s directly in front of us, and often we have a modicum of control of when that light shines. But the stars don’t subscribe to our will. Patiently, they wait for their opportunity to be seen by us.
Much like our far-off friends, there are aspects of our lives, people even, who are only visible to us when we are utterly cloaked in darkness. This darkness might be a low point in our lives, or a persistent battle within ourselves, especially where it concerns anxiety and depression; they are necessary. Some of you may be tacking on evil to that necessary, but that resides in your perspective and that’s what this is all about: perspective. When distress comes tearing through life and we turn around to find that the world is against us, sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself, at the moment, is nothing. Find something that is good, for doing nothing. Let these things pass by you, not through you. Some of the greatest realizations made about the self are discovered when we are objective. Make time for yourself, stand in the presence of something naturally greater than you, and look for that faint, unyielding light. We all have one, we just need to look past ourselves to find it.