Renew Your Wind-Swept Spirit With Basho’s Poetry

Self-Renewal happens despite our designs. The sun warms mountainsides. Our cells regenerate.

With Spring—in New York—comes primeval frustration. Friends shout to each other with a kind of crazed, ebullient impatience, encouraging their slow, sleepy lovers to “come out and play already!”  April holds the promise of Summer but retracts it. Yellow daffodils flower under leafless alders. The demiurge pushes through our bodies as it has for centuries. 

In 1687 Spring coaxed the wandering poet, Basho (1644-1694), from his house. He sought to purify his soul through pilgrimage:

Setting out on his journey, Basho writes:

“In this mortal frame of mine, which is made of a hundred bones and nine orifices there is something, and this something is called a wind-swept spirit . . . it is much like a thin drapery that is torn and swept away at the slightest stir of the wind.” (The Records of a Travel-Worn Satchel). 

Spring pulls us into her.

Last week, I returned from a retreat with my teacher. Several of us met and were scolded for not living. It isn’t that we don’t eat, breathe, work, or sleep. We don’t create—that is, we don’t create as Spring creates.

The Buddha says:

“I always make this thought: How can I make sentient beings enter into the Unsurpassed Way and make them accomplish Buddha’s Body?” (Dharmapundarika sutra)

Zen Masters expect their students to raise Spring’s spirit through words and actions. Those who fail wander like ghosts. Their seasons all look grey. The teacher’s compassion vivifies life to accomplish Buddha’s body. 

Basho vivifies life. He kindly explains:

“All who have achieved real excellence in any art, possess one thing in common, that is, a mind to obey nature, to be one with nature, throughout the four seasons of the year. Whatever such a mind sees is a flower, and whatever such a mind dreams of is the moon. It is only a barbarous mind that sees other than the flower, merely an animal mind that dreams of other than the moon. The first lesson for the artist is, therefore, to learn how to overcome such barbarism and animality, to follow nature, to be one with nature.” (Ibid.)

It’s difficult to see death as a flower, or disease as something as beautiful or as soothing as the moon. And yet Basho and the Buddha tell us to do so.

We’re more divine than we realize. The body follows Nature. Our cells respond to sunlight. A rose alters our mood.

Without knowing, we move with and are moved by Nature.  Spring renews us, and Winter has us rest.  

In 19th Century America, Thoreau writes:

“Where is the literature which gives expression to Nature? He would be a poet who could impress the winds and streams into his service, to speak for him . . . whose words were so true and fresh and natural that they would appear to expand like the buds at the approach of spring.”

Both to use and to be used by Spring is to live.

Following this activity and expressing it, we celebrate and renew our lives and life in general.  

Now, after a dismal Winter, I pull myself out, as Thoreau puts it—“half smothered between two musty leaves in a library.”

Through the blooming Dogwood and the air I enter—and I’m entered by—Spring. 

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