It is the night of the new moon – dark, dark. Camping with friends deep in the forest, we sit around a fire and tell stories deep Into the night, feeding the flames, passing the jug, spinning our yarns. As the evening moves deep into night it is time to retire to tents for sleep. I turn away from the fire to walk into the thick black ink of night. Testing the dark, I hold my hand in front of my face. Nothing. Slowly, I make my way as my eyes adjust, opening to what is before me: the stars, the bioluminescent fungus. The dark has its own light.
In ancient times the passes were closed in midwinter, people did not go about, it was a time for inwardness and quiet. This is our New Year retreat, the return of the light begins, and because we are not reaching outward, the world opens secrets.
While we sit, the new moon will be waxing, we’ll be doing walking meditation in the first moonlight.
Yunmen is a master of knowing where, and when to tap. One feature of his teaching style is to apply one word at precisely the right time. To one question he says, “Barrier!” When asked another he calls out, “sesame rice cake.” With his one word hearts open and worlds come together. In this koan he taps not with a single word, but with a phrase when he says “Say it upside down!”