June 14, 2009

Silent Summer Night

An animal woke me in the middle of the night, and now I'm wide-eyed and listening to the snore of frogs. It's very dark, no moon, and otherwise silent. The deep frog sound reminds me of Entsuji and being awake in the night in summer. At the back of the temple there is a pond and sometimes the frogs sing so loudly you cannot sleep.

I'm a bit of a night owl so it's a wonder I ever came into Zen practice. I mean that I like to stay up late if creative juice starts flowing and just follow where it goes and not have to worry about getting up so early. But, at the time I'm up now, at some monasteries the bell would be ringing for wake up. That's really hard when you haven't slept and you have another 18 hours ahead. As things are this night, I can sleep until I wake, if I'm able to get back to sleep. It's just after four and the first birds are making a racket.

Ryokan san was a night person. He wrote many poems by the light of his candle. Aside from the fact that he liked moonlight, he did suffer from insomnia. But, there is a special feeling being awake in the middle of the night when everyone around is sleeping. There's the feeling of being in a secret world, listening to the subtle movement of life. It reminds of Rumi's poem, "The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell us, don't go back to sleep." To be wakened in the night is to be called to listen, to honor the life of the moon, the dark earth and to listen to how the animals move about under the cover of night sky. It is knowing ourselves alive in the middle of a mysterious banquet that connects us to the roundness of the earth. It is having a moment to stand on the earth and look down, down into the stars.

One of Ryokan san's night poems grips me every time I think of it. He's staying at a temple in his travels and he has been up all night and unable to sleep because he's shivering cold, and he's hungry too. He can hardly wait for the sound of the bell to begin to move on and end the darkness. It's heart rending. The night then is very long and lonely.

This is not my own feeling tonight. But then, it's a warm night and I listen freely without the threat of an alarm clock or schedule. I can just be with whatever time of day or night it is. The first light has come, it's 4:30 a.m. and the birds are near hysterical so far north. For sure the night has finished. Rumi completes his poem, "Spirits are moving back and forth across the doorsill where the two worlds meet. The door is round and open. Don't go back to sleep."