Island Time- June 2014: How To Do Nothing

I gaze on myself in the stream’s emerald flow
Or sit on a boulder by a cliff.
My mind, a lonely cloud, floats on nothing,
Needs nothing from the world and its endless events. 
 – Han Shan (9th century)


For my part, it was gazing into the dancing, steel blue waves of the lake, and sitting against a pine tree on the bank, but eleven hundred years ago the Chinese hermit poet, Han Shan had it pretty much right… that’s how you do nothing… very happily.

Lake, sky, clouds, trees, mountains all ever-changing under shadow and light. Wind, water, and wave-lap making white noise punctuated by the occasional birdsong or the sound of a fish jumping. I took off my glasses and instantly gained a nice soft focus on the world. I wasn’t sitting in zazen posture on my zabuton, I wasn’t chanting “Om” or the “Hare Krishna” or shuffling my rosary beads, but what I was doing was very definitely meditative.

It made it very easy to understand why Han Shan would choose to live up on the top of Cold Mountain and only occasionally to come down and annoy the earnest monks in their ‘meditations‘ at the temple.


And, so, a thousand years later:

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any–lifted from the no
of all nothing–human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

e.e. cummings


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