The art and charm of shoshin

The often-undiscovered excitement of wondrous moments, such as of pebble-skipping on water

February 02, 2019 06:24 pm | Updated February 07, 2019 08:26 am IST

Pebble-skipping on water is an art that isn’t appreciated enough ever. If anyone has spent time watching pebbles make ripples across ponds as they skim along the surface, they will know what I am talking about.

If not, I encourage you to take on your person a couple of pebbles, as flat as possible, and hike up the high hills and mountains, or cut through the pristine forests, in search of a puddle, pond or lake of reasonable size to set off those ripples. Then, with the hand held flat, proceed to skip the pebbles across. The skilful amongst you may get the pebble to skip and skim the water in the first few attempts, causing beautiful rippling waves as they go along. I did not.

The elementary school-going son attempted a large stone throw in a small lake nearby, and I held on to him lest he launched himself with the stone. Size matters: large stones and small boys could cause the cannon to fly with the missile. This is the kind of thing that would have made Newton come up with complex mathematical calculations to support the theory of pebbles and ripples, missiles and cannons, and extend it to comets and stars.

We, on the other hand, laughed, and substituted a flattish stone is his hand. Father and son threw pebbles and I sat watching mesmerised at the beautiful rippling effect it had on the water.

I raised my face upwards towards the sun and my thoughts drifted. As I sat there thinking of this and that, a beautiful thing happened. The mind snapped out of the mundane and omnipresent things that occupied it, and went into a lovely, meditative state. Watching the sun sparkles drift meditatively on the waters was marvellous. The world seemed to be throwing these tiny diamonds into the water for our enjoyment and they drifted obligingly with the tiny waves — little shimmers bobbing up and down, dancing and shining in the sun’s rays, set to the perfect rhythm of the breeze rustling through the bare winter branches of the trees nearby. The earth was bursting with new shoots and moss lined pathways from the recent rains.

Ducks, coots, pelicans, and geese were bobbing on the waters in the distance. Birds were chirping and swooping, and I enjoyed the swift, elegant swoops of swallows as much as the impressive regal swoops of the hawks overhead. Some people were biking, some others walking. The white clouds drifted lazily across the skies, as though they too enjoyed the sunshine and did not want to hide the sun. The air smelt fresh and clean with little wafts of eucalyptus and fir-scented drifts.

Nature’s shows are marvellous. For a moment I forgot about the to-do lists, the worries and tensions that the concept of a New Year brings, and enjoyed the free show in front of me, feeling revived and refreshed in spirit with every passing moment. All my senses were keen, alert and marvelling at the wonder around me. I looked at the little fellow enjoying himself by the waters, and hoped he would remember these simple pleasures as he grows up and takes his place in this frenetic world.

The writing of the poet laureate, Mary Oliver, who died recently, spoke to my heart (emphasis added):

“Teach the children. We don’t matter so much, but the children do. Show them daisies and the pale hepatica. Teach them the taste of sassafras and wintergreen. Give them peppermint to put in their pockets as they go to school. Give them the fields and the woods and the possibility of the world salvaged from the lords of profit .”

My hope is for everyone to savour moments like these every now and then, to keep the capacity to wonder alive in us, to capture the beauty of shoshin. Shoshin is the Zen Buddhist word for ‘beginner’s mind’, denoting the capacity to bring wonder and open-mindedness to learning anything.

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