The Night Speaks, and Other Haiku ~ A Bit of a Haibun About My Night and the Zen of Silence

Lately I've been staying up too late. I just can't help myself. I enjoy waking up early before the kids so I can get started on my day before the general chaos of dealing with them, helping them prepare for their day, and so on. At the same time, I also enjoy the peace of night and staying up late. I want both things!

[This post will be in a form called haibun (俳文), which is a kind of writing combining haiku and prose. Enjoy!]

The other night I told myself I would actually go to bed early and maybe even get a full eight hours of sleep. But as the time ticked by, I just sat there and made no move towards bed. There was something about the night, even more than usual.

It wasn't that I felt a compulsion to work on something, nor did I have something to read or watch. I just sat there, listening to the quiet. After awhile I got out a notecard and wrote:

the silence is speaking
to me

Omiya in Rain by Hasui

When you have practiced meditation for awhile, you learn to listen better. I've been doing Zen style meditation, called shikantaza, for the past twenty years, so I've gotten pretty good at listening. But even if you don't practice meditation, I'm sure you've had those moments when your mind actually stops its constant chatter and you find yourself really listening to your surroundings—and there is a magic in that. The peace of moments these moments is almost overwhelming.

We've all heard the term "enlightenment" or "satori", which is one of the two Japanese words meaning enlightenment commonly used in English. But what is this thing? Well, I'm not going to get into that. The standard answer is you can't explain it with words, you can only experience it, and that's a pretty good one. What I will say, however, is in a way, moments like the one I'm talking about are the first step towards enlightenment or the first enlightenment as some put it.

Time seems to slow down or even stop and we find ourselves really in the moment in a way that we almost never are. The fridge clicks on, a car passes slowly by, the house creaks as it settles, a dog barks somewhere in the distance, two people walk by engaged in a merry conversation and a laugh rings out. If it's during the day, bids might be heard here and there. We seem to be aware of everything surrounding us in a way that is almost supernatural.

Meditating on a regular basis makes events like this more likely to occur, but we all have them sometimes. I was having a moment like that when I wrote the above haiku.

The evening didn't start as peaceful. Earlier my kids had been at it. I had been reading when I head some somewhat aggressive sounding noise from the other room. Ah, the joys of parenthood. I sat there listening for a few minutes, debating if I should go see what was going on. I decided before deciding I would record the moment, so I wrote down:

kids playing
or maybe fighting
in the other room

[Children] Flying Kite by Miyagawa Shuntei

I decided to let them play. As long as fighting doesn't get too violent it is something we need to learn how to deal with ourselves. Besides, they are brothers, and fighting is part of the way boys show love for each other. And sure enough, they went back to playing nicely shortly after. Crisis averted!

Maybe that's another reason I stay up so late sometimes. After a day of listening to noise noise noise, the quiet of night is a welcome pleasure. Don't get me wrong: I love my kids very much and very much welcome their noise. I enjoy playing with them and adding to it. There is, however, much relaxation when peace returns after they go to bed. haha it's hard to explain; I'm sure all you other parents know exactly what I mean.

Another haiku came to mind later that night:

the night
speaks to me
with silence

I guess that's just a variation of the first one I shared at the top of this post. Ah well. Variations are ok I think, especially when you are dealing with a form so short.

I sat up a while longed just enjoying the night. I thought about taking a walk, but it was pretty cold so I quickly ruled out that idea. When you do have moments like this, human nature is to hold on to them. We want them to remain, to stay with us, to be the new normal. But that would be grasping, and we all know what Buddhism says about desire, eh? Even the most intense enlightenment experience eventually ends and you return to "normal".

There is an old story about Budai, called Hotei in Japanese, and commonly referred to as the fat Buddha in the West. One day he walked into town, carrying a heavy sack and hunched over under the weight. A man approached him and asked "What is enlightenment like?". Budai smiled, put his sack down and stood up straight. The man nodded, "I see, I understand. Please tell me then, what is after enlightenment like?" Budai picked up his sack and smiled even more, then walked away.

This story is greatly simplified in a saying from Zen master Wu Li: Before Enlightenment chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment chop wood, carry water.

That in mind, after enjoying the night for awhile, I let it go and went to bed. But not before writing one more haiku. This time a little bit more traditional in form:

before bed
a gift and a lesson
this long night

Yumoto Spa, Nikko

Not very good I'm afraid, but I was starting to get tired at this point. The gift would have been the peace of the night and the lesson letting go of the desire to keep that peace. This long night (yonaga, 夜長) is a kigo (season word) for autumn as the nights are growing longer, but I thought it might work here so I used it anyway.

For any unfamilar with haiku, read my intro of sorts here.

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Hi there! David LaSpina is an American photographer and translator lost in Japan, trying to capture the beauty of this country one photo at a time and searching for the perfect haiku.

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