In the still night by the vacant window,
wrapped in monk’s robe I sit in meditation.
navel and nostrils lined up straight;
ears paired to the slope of the shoulders.
Window whitens — the moon comes up;
rain’s stopped, but drops go on dripping.
Wonderful — the mood of this moment —
distant, vast, known to me only!

— Ryokan (Japanese poet-monk 1758–1831)

This poem includes meditation posture hints. It also powerfully brings us into the moment that’s described. It does this precisely, yet evocatively. You can feel the moon’s light, smell the rain, hear its drops and imagine the monk sitting there, enjoying.

I don’t know Ryokan. He doesn’t know me. So I can’t be sure. But I bet Ryokan understood that while in meditation, the rising of the moon isn’t a reason to break the meditation and start labeling yourself. Instead he makes it into an enjoyment, uniquely his.

Here’s Ryokan following to the T the instruction for meditation posture.

He knows it. He abides by it. He’s committed to it.

At the same time, he doesn’t play the blame game. Self-blame. No labels. He makes the rising moon the meditation instead.

It’s a valuable lesson. While there are guidelines, they’re not meant to get in the way of living. Life happens. Moon rises.

The form is there for us. To hold all together. And we need that.

Ryokan is sneaky though. Because in the other half of the poem, he paints a picture with words that can only come from deep contemplation and razor preciseness of mind.

That comes from actually meditating. Ears and nostrils.

And that’s the balance.

Art by Emma McNally

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