Here is a moment: sitting at a picnic table in blazing sunshine and a mild breeze on the most beautiful day of the year. A red-tailed hawk soars in effortless circles overhead. There are chickadees around – I can hear them – and other birds whose calls I don’t know carry on conversations all around. The house is almost clean, the laundry done. There was a pleasant ramble up along North Creek earlier, and then a drive up to the top of the ridge for a view of the Cascades and the Olympics, covered in snow. The sun brought out the best in the blueschist wall. And the cat is at home, lazing in the sun, perfectly content.
I circle back around to this moment, where a jay (Steller’s, I think) has just landed in the tree beside me with a scolding raucous cry. A squirrel climbs branches just barely outlined with tiny yellow-green new leaves. A seagull’s plaintive cry sounds nearby. This is now, and the city sounds of cars and chattering children fade to insignificance.
Life is a series of moments, strung together, and some of them are so close to perfect that I’m left baffled by people who reach for a heaven. Imagination, I understand. Imaginary worlds are fun: I’ve rambled with the Doctor today, with Rose and Amy, snippets of scenes dancing, sparkling like water in the sun. My main character and I had a long discussion about how we were going to describe something there are no human words for, while I rambled around with the camera looking for opportunities to turn nature into art.
Somewhere in the city, there are people carving and painting and sculpting and designing; people creating beautiful things from fabrics and thread and yarn. Someone’s arranging rocks and plants just so in a yard. Someone’s smithing words. Someone’s telling a story with the motion of their body. People are imagining things that will add measures of delight to their lives and the lives of those who see, hear, touch, taste or smell what they’ve created. And nature, with its clouds of flowering trees and its creatures and its colors, is busy being art without intention or imagination.
Some folks think a higher power did this, inspired this, directed this. I think that subtracts rather than adds. Never mind the distinct lack of evidence. Giving the credit to a God rather than the natural forces and the people who have created this beauty cheapens the effect. Gods make it tawdry. Let the gods stay in stories, created by human minds, told by human voices. They belong there, not here. Not in this moment, whole and complete and unintentional.
I think that’s why I like those old Zen masters so much. No gods, no desire for them. No quest for enlightenment. Where do you go for it? Right here. This moment. Supernatural power in chopping wood and carrying water. Zazen in going to the market and cooking a meal. Every moment, extraordinary without ever being anything other than perfectly ordinary. Why look somewhere else when it’s right here? Why rely on a god when there’s no god required?
Stories, now. Stories are good. We need stories, we humans. We need imagination and creativity, because we wouldn’t get anywhere without them. Sometimes people seem to think that if you dispense with gods, you can’t tell stories anymore. Nothing could be further from the truth. Getting rid of gods means freeing your mind from shackles, arbitrary rules, lists of forbidden things. We can go anywhere, now. Some of those places are dangerous and we should use caution. But we’re free.
We can soar outside of reality for a time, if we like, but we discover that reality is intriguing. Beautiful and terrible, far more so than any gods we can imagine. It takes a lot of creativity to puzzle it out. It takes even more to change it. Imagination is required to see a way to the truth. Small-t truth, subject to modification as further truths are discovered. Nothing is more adventurous than science. Ultimately, I think it tells the best stories, stories that are even more extraordinary as we realize they’re true. Continents collide, stars create the bits that could become us, simple chemistry leads to these myriad forms that have been singing in my ears all this while… No, a god is surplus to requirements. An airy nothing, in a universe full of spectacular something.
Let the gods be enjoyed as stories, told by people to people.
Let this perfect moment be enjoyed just as it is.
(Written during a remarkably lovely Easter weekend.)