These days our attention turns to the lessons learned over the past year and how to apply them during our next orbit around the sun. Whatever wisdom we have gained, our minds organize it into patterns. We develop systems for action that we believe will produce certain results, "Early to bed, early to rise makes one healthy, wealthy and wise." We focus on tasks that will enhance our food, shelter, clothing and communities while they enrich our bodies, minds and souls. We begin the new year determined to work smarter, try harder and love more. As the months unfurl, our visions of a better life can get lost in the day to day challenges we encounter. So, what is a practical and sustainable way to apply patterns of wisdom to daily life?
For me the answer is depicted in a story I came across more than 40 years ago. I found it in a sidebar of the Whole Earth Catalog and carried it with me for years. I used this tale to open my first book, The Temple in the House. It goes like this: The Japanese tea master Sen no Rikyu built a teahouse on the side of a hill overlooking the sea. He invited three guests to the inaugural tea ceremony. The guests had heard about the beautiful site and expected to find a structure that took advantage of the wonderful view. After arriving at the garden gate, they were perplexed to discover a grove of trees had been planted that obstructed the panorama. Before entering the teahouse, the guests followed the custom of purifying their hands and mouths at the stone basin near the entry. Stooping to draw water with a bamboo ladle, they noticed a small opening had been clipped through the trees. This opening framed a view of the sparkling sea. In that humble position, they awakened to the relationship between the cool liquid in the ladle and the ocean in the distance, between their individuality and the ocean of life.
What I draw from this story is that patterns of wisdom are a means to connect with what is beyond patterns. They are forms that set up the experience of what is beyond form. Patterns of wisdom are physical vessels of life that allow us to drink in the energy and intelligence that animates and guides daily living. We may enact our wisdom by creating a vision board describing our ideal house, car, physique, wardrobe, partner, family, community and world. But, more than these objects, we want the experience of being alive that we believe this object will bring. Because, these forms are hollow if we are not ignited by the sparks of energy rushing through them.
Sitting on the meditation cushion or stretching out on the yoga mat are, therefore, vessels for feeling the life force flowing through our minds and bodies. Eating a healthy meal is a vessel for tasting the life force moving through the world that produced the food. Going shopping is a vessel for embracing the life force animating and connecting your community. Every physical form from a blade of grass to a galaxy is a vessel for accessing the miracle of life energy shimmering through it.
The application of wisdom is not how to get the things we want. It's how to feel the life energy surging through everything we already have. It's not how we can reshape the world into our preconceived patterns; it's how we can open to the vitality and intelligence animating the amazing patterns that are already and always forming and reforming our lives and the world.
As I focus on the year ahead, I think of expectations of the guests as they arrived at the tea ceremony all those years ago. I recall the small opening the tea master clipped through the trees and how that opening pointed to the ocean of life beyond the trees. I feel how the guests sensed the waters of life pouring through the ocean and through them. I'm inspired by the way this pattern of wisdom awakened them to the life force beyond the pattern. I sense how to apply the patterns of wisdom life has shown me, to honor each physical form I encounter as a vessel for the revitalizing life force surging pouring through it.