I would have liked to call this “My Dinner with Andrea” because, like the movie My Dinner with André, it involves some spiritual thoughts. Here are some more thoughts on discovering the Divine, inspired by the Concert of Silence:
My Zen teachers taught me to always have a big question in mind, something like “Who am I?” “What is life?” and my favorite, from the Providence Zen Center in Providence, Rhode Island, “Life is a floating cloud that appears, death is a floating cloud that disappears. The cloud originally has no existence, but there is one thing that is pure and clear and always exists. What is the one pure and clear thing?”
Basically they taught me to know nothing, to not be absolutely sure of anything. It’s a stance that serves extremely well given the rumors, gossip, and other nonsense we’re presented with all around us, not least on the news. “Not knowing” causes the mind to become receptive.
Think about it. Once you say, “I know,” it’s like a steel grating comes crashing down over the mind, and it stops searching for answers.
The scientific method requires us to doubt everything. It works well for discovering facts about the physical world around us (some of them, anyway. I think our minds are more involved with the events in the world than science allows us to believe), but it’s bad spiritual practice.
I think that if we really want to find the big things (who we are, who or what God is, that sort of thing), we always have to be in a state of wonder, which is a questioning state of mind. Rather than doubt the truth of something, it’s better spiritual practice to wonder if it’s true (but never to be sure it’s true. Got it?).
Okay, on to Perugia. My last day was spent reading, writing, and going to dinner at Rossella Vasta‘s. She’s a multi-media artists, and a pretty successful one. Her Table of Silence artwork has gone around the world and, if you happen to be in New York City on September 11 this year (or apparently any year), you should head up to Lincoln Center and see the Buglisi Dance Theater do a performance based on the concept. It’s free and occurs in the square around the fountain.
Rossella was the person who started events moving that eventually led to my presentation in Assisi a few days ago (What a gift it is to have supportive friends!). Not only is Rossella a great artist, she also runs the Pieve International School, which offers Italian language and culture courses to university students, mostly American, from what I’ve heard.
Rossella lives next to the Pieve International School, and we met there. She invited some of the people involved in this year’s Assisi Suono Sacro festival: me, Andrea, Marco (another Divine Proportion expert), Paola, Chiara, Tommaso and Livia.
Have you ever eaten dinner with a lot of Italians? Well, it was like that: lots of talking (at very high speed), lots of food, lots of excitement. The Divine Proportion came up again. How could it not? Everyone told me how, despite their knowledge of the Divine Proportion, they hadn’t known it was used in music. We talked about next year’s Assisi Suono Sacro program. Andrea and Rossella want me to do the presentation again with a pianist, and they want to invite a handful of composition students to listen to it and write music that utilizes the Divine Proportion.
I can’t possibly express the extent to which I love being around these people! They all have a lot of ideas, and their ideas don’t remain ideas for long! I want to stay here with them!
I started this blog entry with a discussion of Zen, because the subject came up at dinner. The gathering were interested in the “sound of one hand clapping” koan, and asked me if I knew more. I told them about the floating cloud (mentioned above), and one that I actually answered acceptably: the roshi shows you a stick and says, “If you tell me it’s a stick, I’ll hit you with it. If you tell me it isn’t a stick, I’ll hit you with it. So tell me, is it a stick, or is it not a stick?” And…I’m not going to tell you the answer! Get thee to a Zen monastery!
One interesting topic was about laughter. One of the things that attracted me to Zen was that there was a lot of humor in it, something I didn’t find in the Catholic church (but to counteract that idea, read this). I’ve come to believe that laughing provides an opportunity for enlightenment to occur, because when you’re laughing, you’re not thinking!
Rossella told me that St. Francis (whose image, by the way, we were looking at throughout the meal. If you look closely at the featured photo image on this link, you’ll see a fresco of St. Francis preaching to the birds in the style of Giotto on the back wall) had a lot of the qualities of a Zen master. I guess he did. He talked to animals. He would mock himself, calling his body “Brother Donkey.” But I think he did it in a different spirit than a Zen master would.
Dinner ended, we all said goodbye, and I got a ride back to Perugia from Chiara. I left with a big smile at what a wonderful evening it was.
And enlightenment was very close.