Walking Your Way to Wisdom and Learning the Sacred Art of Sutra
The sound of crickets and tree-frogs rise to meet the dead-eyed moon. I rock beneath the porch light, focused, desperate. Carefully, hand shaking, I choose words to carry heavy loads and ink the footprints of insight across the pages of my notebook.
I’m struggling. Devastation has visited my life, eating its heart and breaking bones. I’m bleeding pain, it covers me, staining everything with the shades of misery.
I’m tired from the long walk but I hold a spark of understanding waiting on my pen.
* * *
I walk to observe and learn. Some of what I learn is best captured in sutra.
Before writing, knowledge was passed from the deep memory of a people by their oral traditions. Knowledge had to be distilled, in a memorable, often melodic way. The sutra of Buddha, the Vedas, or the words of Jesus hold the core, the essence of fundamental truths.
Symbolism and deeper layers of meaning allowed a subtle range of knowledge to be conveyed. Beneath the surface, you’ll find deeper levels of meaning that fit into greater bodies of truth. To get there, a seeker had to explore the wider context of knowledge, had to acquire an education in the wisdom tradition. Only then, was the seeker ready to unwrap the symbolism and discover the full range of meanings.
Studying sutra can open infinite doorways of insight and understanding. However, a very effective way of ingraining your insights, is to do the work of actually writing sutra. You only need a willingness to open your perceptions and work at it.
You can teach yourself to see beyond the surface to the naked light of the living universe. The Sutra Walk is a technique for just that purpose.
Walk with focused calm
- Walk slowly, taking long deep breaths. Let your mind relax and follow the gentle pace of your footsteps.
- Once you are calm and distractions have grown quiet in your mind, begin observing.
Open Your Senses to Patterns
- Scan the scenery looking for patterns. Patterns are the easiest things to see at first. Latch on to them and explore them with all your senses.
- Ask yourself what patterns form in the rain riding the leaves or the hawk etching spirals in the sky? What patterns do you hear in the busy stream and the bee’s flight? What patterns do you smell in the morning air and in the freshly turned soil? What patterns do you feel in the breath of evening air or the stone sleeping in your hand? What patterns do you taste in the mid-day dust and the well’s cold cup? Ask yourself and let the answers into every sense.
- When you find something, roll it out in your mind. Turn it over and tease out the essence. Then, when you understand it, look for like-patterns elsewhere. When you see the similarities, you’ll start to understand the connections.
- Note your perceptions, describe them to yourself.
Widen Your Field
- With every walk widen the field of your observation and contemplation. Move from thoughts of the tree to thoughts of the forest. Keep expanding the fields and terrain of your contemplation.
- Then, think about yourself. Open yourself to self examination. Learn the flavor of your passion, the wellspring of your fear and the secrets of your heart.
- Step by step your wisdom will grow. You’ll see farther and deeper. Subtle and breathtaking vistas will emerge as you open to progressively greater perceptions.
- At the end of a sutra walk note the essence of your observations. Don’t worry about being profound or artful. Just call forth a few simple words. You’ll find it in yourself. You’ll capture a spark of truth and that’s all you need.
- Keep practicing.
Seeing requires a free and open mind. Understanding requires reason and wisdom, but capturing that essence requires creativity. Like other skills, it matures with practice. Once adept, you can pen lines whenever inspiration moves you, but first you must approach the process systematically, like a child learning to write.
Walk and observe. Open your mind to the living universe and note what you see.
Find one thing, one twinkle, one spark that offers a bit of fleeting insight. Then capture it. Nothing fancy, just words, like fireflies in a jelly jar. Simple as that.
As wisdom takes root, creativity will blossom into a sacred art ready to capture the shades of truth in life and spirit, joy and pain.
* * *
My notebook falls to the porch floor and the pen rolls to a snug space between boards. I pull my knees to my chest and wrap my arms around shins. My hands stop shaking and I close my eyes.
Some of the ink still shines under the porch light.
Standing in smoke and ruin,
broken, bruised, battle lost,
understanding finds you,
clean as ash,
from the blows,
lighter than moonlight
and stronger than fate.