Growing up in a small town the next door neighbors consisted of a family of three boys being raised by a single woman. Her husband had crashed his car into a tree on his way home from work late one night. The rumor was that he did it on purpose but of course I never spoke of that to the boys or to anyone for that matter.
I remember them mostly on account of the dancing. When she got home from working the woman and her three sons would spend the evenings in their garage dancing together to old-time 40s big-band music. Though they didn’t play the music very loudly their garage faced our house so I could hear the rhythm quite well.
Watching from our front porch I often yearned to join them but they seemed so happy together I was loath to disturb them. Each evening their dancing seemed to improve to the point that their rhythm was a joy to watch. Sometimes I thought I saw them looking my way but they never motioned for me to come over so I just sat there and watched.
I wondered if my mother would have taught me to dance should she have lived, like my neighbor woman taught her sons. I never really got to know my mother. She passed away when I was but a baby; I was too young to remember her though at times I have a passing vision of her laughing at something that no one else finds funny. I've been told by those who did know my mother that she loved mirth, music, and dancing so I like to think she might have showed me that affection should she have lived long enough to do so.
These days I love the music still but I have never learned to dance. Long ago I learned if I sat silently no one noticed me; no one noticed I was alone. I sat there too long reveling in the music never learning to dance.
Sadness and pleasure indicate a degenerate ingredient in the virtue of those who experience them. Joy and anger show a going astray in direction. Love and hatred demonstrate a collapse of quality. For the mind to be free of sadness and sorrow is the perfection of virtue. To be of one mind that does not change is the perfection of quietude. To be conscious of no conflict is the perfection of vacancy.
If I toil too long without rest my body becomes worn out. If I trouble myself with desires and anxious thoughts without rest my spirit becomes worn out. Like water when I am free of admixture my thoughts are clear; when my thoughts are not agitated like water I am level and calm. This is known as the rhythm of heaven.
Sometimes I stay too long. Sometimes I don’t stay long enough. I forget the rhythm of the mystery to dwell in the tempo of the earth. Though these two might be mistaken as the same one comes before the other. One cannot be seen while the other is all that is seen.
Being motherless I looked to the forest for solace and for solitude. Wandering alone on lost paths deep in the mountains I could find no water to drink. Listening with parched throat as I walked through the rock-strewn valleys I could hear the rhythm of water dancing under the stones. I knew the water had to be there. By keeping my eyes on the valley I ignored the source.
Following the rock-covered stream down into the valley I hoped to find a pool of standing water. But I was met with disappointment. I began moving rocks aside hoping to find water underneath. The water seemed so close and yet no matter how many stones I rolled away I couldn’t seem to get to the source.
When I looked up from my task wiping away sweat from my brow I saw the snow glittering on the mountain top. I realized the water I heard under the stones was melting on high. To get to the source I had to forego the valley. By climbing away from what I knew I came closer to the source.
As I lay in slumbers my brain starved for oxygen high in those mountains one bitter and cold January night I dreamed how I danced with a beautiful lady who might well have been my daughter. Our rhythm and our timing were perfect. As the dance ended and she walked away she turned her head just so waving a happy goodbye over her shoulder. I recognized her from her striking the same pose as in an old picture I'd once been given of my mother.
Waking I thought how miraculous it was to see and to dance with my mother who was still a young woman when I had grown so old. I thought of the rhythm of life and the rhythm of death and how the two danced with the mystery, eternally renewing each other along with the world.
Action without thought is a rhythm I feel with my heart and not with my feet. While thinking takes me away from experience action without thought brings me closer to it. When experience comes as a surprise I know I am closer to the mystery. When experience is always new I am the mystery.
The mystery formed before heaven and earth. It is alone and unchanging. It is ever-present and yet always in motion. The mystery is the mother of all things. I do not know its name. I call it the source of experience. For lack of a better word I call it the mystery.
Since the source of experience is mysterious it flows far away and having gone far it returns. I follow the rhythm of the earth. The earth follows the rhythm of heaven. Heaven follows the rhythm of the mystery. The mystery follows what is natural.