After one particular sesshin, or Zen Buddhist retreat, I remember talking to a fellow who had been doing the same thing everybody else has -- paying attention, focusing the mind, sitting still and addressing the flotsam and jetsam that floated up in the mind.
Anyone who has tried sesshin can tell you that it can get pretty intense -- pretty sad, pretty happy, pretty usual, pretty unusual, pretty clear, pretty confused. Sitting in silence facing your own life ... well, it can be pretty intense. Deeper and deeper the focus seems to go, more and more focused the focus seems to become and bit by bit there is less and less to hold onto.
And it was out of that frame of mind, the fellow I was talking to said, almost as a wail, "It's got to leave you with something!"
It's sort of funny -- but not much fun being there -- when things we have assumed and loved and hated and clung to seem to disappear and there's "nothing" left. A good friend dies and there is no way to speak clearly about it: The mind tries and tries to find meaning and solace but, well, everything is just wubba-wubba ... real as air but no where to find a handle. Or love wells up as big as a house boat and yet it cannot be contained or defined, no matter how sweet the poetry.
Somehow, what disappears cannot disappear. "It's got to leave you with something!"
I think of this when I think of spiritual endeavor. How beloved. How intense. How frightening. How enfolding. And during a time of great and good effort, there does seem to be something to it, something concrete and consoling and reliable. In Buddhism, there is Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. In Christianity, there is God. In Taoism there is ... well, Tao.
In practice it comes closer and closer, as it seems until it's still there, but it's too close for the eyes to focus. And then, it disappears but there is still a sense of loss and the willingness to reassert ritualistic praise or recitations. After all, it's got to leave you with something! It cannot just go "poof!"
It's got to leave you with something and of course it does, but like love or death, it cannot be named, whether by shouts or whispers. "Something" usually has a name, but where the names disappear ... what's that like? Maybe it's a little as if things disappear all the time and nothing can possibly disappear. Things cannot disappear, but I can. :)
And that's "something," right?