Bathing The Elephant

Last night as I returned from a walk along the road below Throssel I spotted in the gathering gloom a monk in amongst a stand of trees. He was wrestling with what looked like a huge snake!  I thought no more about it at the time. Somewhere in the recesses of my mind I must have registered that the snake was actually a hose pipe but didn’t follow up with that all important question. Why? Why is somebody out in the near dark dealing with a hose pipe, especially since we have had so much rain in these past days.

It’s interesting the way our perception works. How selective it is. How we don’t need to understand everything that passes across our screen, so to speak. And how easy it is to jump to conclusions especially when the light is dim and ones mind is on other things. In the Rules For Meditation by Zen Master Dogen there is a line that goes something like, do not spend so much time rubbing only part of the elephant. Pointing to the very human habit of over-focusing on just a part of something. Be that an internal mental focus, on an idea or emotion. Or an external physical focus on an object or scene.  In terms of human endeavor, individually or collectively, one can only know and appreciate a very small part of what’s going on in terms of the big picture (or the whole elephant!). It’s the same for ourselves isn’t it. It is far too easy to jump to conclusions about oneself, often judgmental conclusions, based on slim information.  And yet experience shows us that we are constantly encountering parts of the elephant and needing to act. Of paramount importance is to keep in mind there is more going on than we will ever be able to take into account at any given moment. But not something to obsess about of course. We do need to remain active agents in our lives.

Chatting this morning I learned the monk with the hose pipe had been washing the mini digger we had hired to dig a grave and which he had been using late to shift some hunks of rock while we still had use of it. Oh yes, he said, I was taught to always ‘bath the elephant’ after using it. Just as in the east the elephants are washed down after working in the forest.  Well of course! Of course one would express gratitude for the mechanical beast by washing off the mud and muck after hours shunting and shoving in the wilds of Northumberland. Making it clean and bright revealing all the individual parts, cogs ‘n wheels, tracks ‘n sprockets which go to make up the whole.

Perhaps our regular meditations are thus. Not holding on or pushing away, or rejecting anything means the parts of the elephant fade or fall away and the whole elephant, which is formless, is known.

These past couple of weeks I have been focusing on a particular part of the elephant  that is this Field of Merit endeavour. I’ll write about that for the newsletter which should be published in the next few days.



One thought on “Bathing The Elephant

  1. Indeed. All too easy to get bogged down by details to the point of failing to see what the whole picture is as in, “Can’t see the wood for the trees”. The current sculpture I’m working on is at the fiddly fine filing and sanding stage which has me working real close. I have to stand well back to appreciate how the whole thing is coming along.
    And yet, another bit of Dogen niggles, the “study in detail” bit. Hmm.

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