Poetry Wednesday: Ikkyu Breaks Free

It’s been a busy and challenging week for the family. We’ve had so much going on, some of it successful and some less so. Whenever we have one of these weeks, I get thinking that it’s a 21st century curse. But it isn’t really. The 21st century just has a particular version of it, a particularly fast and irritating version of what has existed for centuries. It’s the panic filled, anxiety place of the cerebral cortex. It’s logic and reason taken to extremes that ignore the heart. And it always makes me think of 14th century Buddhist monk and poet Ikkyu. He definitely understood that this logic brain makes you lose your Original Mind, or pure state. It takes you into ego and away from your deeper self. Which isn’t a problem, exactly. As Ikkyu himself said,

“If it rains, let it rain, if the wind blows, let it blow.”

But it can be frustrating when it doesn’t line up with your own viewpoint. It’s a value question- what do we want out of the world? What do we want from ourselves, from each other? I live in two worlds when it comes to values and expectations. I teach science, I research science, I enjoy science. Science is rational. It’s the Church of Reason. When I’m not working, I live in a world of fiction and poetry. Poetry is the Church of the Heart. I love both, and I’m happy to be in both. But crazy days, money worries, and other problems definitely cause me to retreat into poems. These issues draw me to ancient Zen poets and wild old masters who preach the gospel of the poet.

“Nobody told the flowers to come up nobody
Will ask them to leave when spring’s gone”

One reason is the desire to question my own needs and wishes. The understanding that we need to let go of our egos, which poets have understood for centuries. One of my big frustrations with current academic poets is the loss of this meaning, the shift into more ego based poetry. Poetry should always have an element of letting go of reason, letting go of a certain notion of self. Reason has plenty of acolytes in the world- poets should be devotees of unreason.

So I turn to Ikkyu. Insane Zen poet of the Heart.


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