Dreams, art and koans are like the prebiotic molecules found in the icy particles from interstellar space, they come from an unimaginably remote place and yet contain the seeds of life.
Here is a collage, a multimedia piece, of the three mixed together.
On a grey and overcast day, as the evening light is fading, in a run down part of the city, a woman (our heroine) is walking with two unsettled men, immigrants from a strange country. She is trying to find help for them as they are having a hard time adjusting to this country. They come to a bridge that crosses over train tracks. Under the bridge are a bunch of homeless men huddled around a barrel with a fire inside it.
She walks over to a man, who looks likes the leader and asks, "my two immigrant friends are having trouble getting adjusted, can they stay here?". "OK", he says. She notices the homeless men are all smoking and that there are empty cigarettes packs scattered all around, so she offers to go and get them more cigarettes. She asks what brand they smoke, he says "Metaphors". She picks up an empty cigarette package and confirms that it's the "Metaphors" brand and walks away. One of the homeless men offers cigarettes to the immigrants, "here - these will help".
When new things become conscious in our lives, often, we don't know what to make of them. Meeting an unconscious shadow figure, walking in dreams, or a first, deep, step into emptiness, puts us in a foreign place and we become immigrants in a strange land. Like the the homeless people who gather under a bridge for temporary shelter, our first step is to look a for similar type of refuge, something equally bare and transient. In this place a way forward is found, sometimes in the form of an unusual question or metaphor. A metaphor gives us something known to help with the unknown. If you hold the metaphor closely, it will change into something real and literal - your own individual life.
Here's an example.
Zen Master Yuean, thirteen hundred years ago asked, “Xizhong made a hundred carts. If you take off both wheels and removed the axle, what would be made vividly clear about the cart”. Master Yuean, besides asking a remarkable question, a question that points directly to the heart of Zen, used his virtuosity and offered an apt metaphor - handmade carts. The homeless men living under the bridge show us a way to work with Yuean's question. They know that smoking a metaphor cigarette, inhaling it directly into your body, helps.
Master Yuean spoke of a famed cart builder called Xizhong, someone who built hundreds of carts. If we hold Xizhong deep inside us, if we become Xizhong for while, we start to notice what it is like to build carts. We also notice the hundreds and hundreds of carts we build, and like Xizhong, we are pretty good at building them. A woman was very concerned about the safety of her child and went to great lengths to make sure all her child's activities were carefully monitored, so much so that her daughter wasn't able to enjoy her childhood. After a while she noticed the source of these worries and concerns weren't coming from pressing external threats, but from a master cart builder - herself. Holding the koan and taking the metaphor directly into her life allowed her to see something unknown.
Life seems a little more transparent now and Master Yuean's true question comes to the fore. What happens when the things we build, the ideas we believe about ourselves and the world fall away? What becomes vividly clear? The concerned mother, now aware of the carts she builds, decides to see what happens if she takes them apart and removes the wheels and axles. She is going to give up trying to micromanage every detail of her daughter's life and maybe even her own life. The only way to see what is vividly clear when the cart is disassembled is to disassemble the cart. When ideas about ourselves and our life drop away, carts do what carts do best and children are free to be children.
Our heroine returns to the bridge with more cigarettes and hands them to the homeless man she spoke with earlier. This time she looks closely at him and notices that he is looking deeply into her eyes. She isn't scared and doesn't turn away, instead she holds his gaze. He asks - what is vividly clear right now?