As you may know, on weekends, I post words and wisdom from others, including videos, essays, poetry, and opinions of note. Today, inspired by the exquisite blog of Cate Kerr, I offer this excerpt from the recently deceased John Daido Loori, one of the first American Zen masters. He was founder of the Zen Mountain Monastery, founder and director of the Mountains and Rivers Order and a renowned author and photographer. Enjoy.
From The Zen of Creativity: Cultivating Your Artistic Life
by John Daido Loori (June 14, 1931 – October 9, 2009)
The Chinese character for mystery, or yugen, is the character for mountain, which looks like an inverted letter T with two squiggles on each side of the vertical line. This line is the mountain, and the squiggles on either side represent the mist in the valley that invokes a certain anticipation of the hidden.
Mystery is usually associated with the darker side of life, with death or fear of the unknown. In religion and art, mystery is light itself. It’s the lifeblood that pumps through true religious and artistic practice. Mystery is the itch that you can’t scratch, the driving force of spiritual and creative journeys. It sets in motion the basic questions of our existence. It fuels genuine scientific investigation. It invites us to peek around the next corner, into the darkness.
Mystery is the seed of discovery. The term ‘mystical’ means: ‘Having a spiritual meaning that is neither apparent to the senses nor obvious to the intellect. It is direct subjective communication with ultimate reality.’ It’s the kind of communication that we can’t process intellectually. . . .
In the photography workshops I lead, I ask participants to go out to photograph without expectations. For most people, the moment they hear the assignment, they try to figure out exactly what they’re going to photograph and how. But when we go out with an idea, we close the doors of possibility. When we expect a certain result, only two things can happen: We will either find what we’re looking for or we won’t.
Either way, we are blind to all other possibilities because we’re focused on our expectation. Don’t expect, in life or in art. Open yourself to discovery. Enjoy the mystery. All the good stuff is hidden in the dark corners. It’s what gives life its sense of vitality.
The human imagination is infinitely powerful and profound. It allows each person to bring to the work of art something that is unique to him or her. Five people looking at the same painting will not see it in the same way. Yet the work of art will speak to each of them in their own language. That’s the wonder of mystery.
In art, mystery is touched through understatement and implication. Mystery abhors naked exposure and explanation.