25: “Not As They Seem” (Buddhist Teaching)

        “Things are not as they seem–nor are they otherwise.” -Buddhist teaching

        Last week I talked about my friend Ryan, and how he helped me turn the cold weather into a friend. That’s a story with a door that opens and closes: at first, the door in my mind was closed, and I wasn’t going to get whatever it was that my walk through the night could give me. Then Ryan helped me bump the door open, and in swept the sharp, sparkling, frosted joy of a winter night. Sometimes the stories we tell ourselves are like that: one story makes the world shallower, and another makes it deeper. One story breaks us apart, and another helps us heal. But I wonder if, more often than not, different stories are only that–they’re different.
        I’ve been thinking for a week now, trying to come up with a perfect image or metaphor to show that there might not be one true perspective; I don’t have one. I could try: as a child, my ripped down comforter was a cave when I was a bear, a cape when I was a wizard, the ocean when I was a whale. That might have been “pretend,” but that ripped comforter was also something to be repaired, something that could keep me warm, a gift that many in the world could use, the remains of birds (buried in a strange bundling ritual), and a funny photo shoot waiting to happen. A tree is a boat or a house or a broom handle not yet made, but it’s also a home for countless creatures, a shademaker, a windwhisperer, a lookout for brave children, and a slow adventurer who reaches, tireless, towards the sky. And it is other, unknown, unexplained. Perhaps it is silly of me to try and pin down and display, beneath a sheet of clear language, the image of endless mystery: after all, “things are not as they seem–nor are they otherwise.”
        Stories are useful: perspective makes the drawing look real, and I’ve never known a view that didn’t start with you standing somewhere. One perspective can let you look deeply in one way. But I also want to be a little less insistent with the stories I tell. I want to be able to let them go, let them rise and push me along and fade to be replaced like waves in the water. I want glimpses of things, that way and this way, in some of their many guises, flickering and flying and falling.

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