There are twenty-one post-it notes in my copy of Where the Heart Beats: John Cage, Zen Buddhism, and the Inner Life of Artists. It was sent to me early last year by a reader I’ve never met, who’d read the many mentions of Cage on Improvised Life. The post-its flag illuminating and useful ideas I go back to frequently, even as I find ever more with time.
Author Kay Larson, a Buddhist herself, weaves together many threads of Cage’s life, his lectures and writings. In a lecture called Indeterminacy, Cage quotes the teachings of Huang Po’s Doctrine, on release from self-obsessive thoughts:
Thoughts arise not to be collected and cherished but to be dropped…
I’ve been testing out a practice based on this amazing phrase. I can be anywhere — waiting on a line, riding the subway, standing in a field in the park nearby — and practice: I identify the really unhelpful, unproductive, can’t-do-anything-about-them thoughts I have (and I have A LOT). I imagine gently dropping them, as though they were rotten wood…or cold ashes of a fire long dead……adding a image to the thought along with the concept that many thoughts arise…to be dropped...
(The idea of practice is key. The results are not instant, but rather, gradually clarifying.)
Larsen put it another way:
This Cage snippet is another good reminder:
The thing to do is to keep the head alert but empty. Things come to pass, arising and disappearing. There can be no consideration of error. Things are always going wrong.
With heartfelt thanks to M.E.