This year, getting to Moose Bay, our familiar yet off-the-map camping site was more peculiar than ever before. I was planning to explore another part of the lake, skirt by the old site and tuck into a less developed, hidden cove. Yet, despite careful planning, reconnaissance, and mean paddling, we ended up precisely where we’ve always ended up on these trips, which is Moose Bay, discovering what needed to be seen along the way, and giving something away.
Raquette Lake was filled with loons. During the daytime, they fished patiently, diving before the approaching canoe bows and letting the silver water close over them without a ripple. At night, their maniacal calls crisscrossed the water and ricocheted off the edge of the forest. The piercing howl and the mad cackle kept tugging at that delectable uncertainty between the heart and the throat, adding to the enjoyment of the half-moon sailing against the clouds. Profound loneliness and profound connectedness elicited by a sound. An unbreakable thread running through each moment.
When Hongzhi speaks of consistent conduct, he evokes clouds and moon. Consistent conduct of a person of the Way, the perseverance of practice, of study of the self, of offering this very life as a ceaseless thread, is like the perseverance of clouds drifting across the boundlessness of the sky or like the moon’s unbiased illumination. There is no stumbling or resting, no loss of direction, no judgment. There is no effort amidst exhaustive relinquishing of limitations. With no grasping mind there is no possibility of attachment. With utter and complete freedom, there is a beginningless and endless journey.
The moon reflects universally. Without deliberate intention, it gives what it can give. More accurately, it passes on the light when it is most needed. Burning cool phosphorescence melts into dark cracks. The air itself glows as if it was dense with nightlight. Thoughts seem to unfurl like flowers in the sun. If it is up, it shines. And within that constancy, everything changes and does not revert.
During the wilderness retreat, we follow the daily monastery zazen schedule. At dawn, the canoes glide through the mist from different tent sites, converging on a hidden beach with a scraggly tree growing parallel to the water. The fire already crackles, and under a tarp, we sit in silence. The day unfolds into painting, and in the evening we return to stillness and the breath and the awareness as vast as the night dome. For twenty years, zazen like moonlight. Silence added to silence, settling into the contours of the rocks and moss-zabutons and tree log-cushions, shaping a woodland zendo, consecrating space. Shifting awareness, everything changes.