The Narrow Road Within

With strange synchronicity I see that today’s prompt word on WordPress is ‘panicked’.  A feeling of panic was precisely what came over me when I attempted to write a blog post this morning.  I have been reading about Basho, haiku and haibun.   These are all complex subjects and I am still decoding what I’ve read.  I want to write a series of blog posts about it all but when I try to do so I am engulfed in panic.   How can I do the subjects justice?   Will I get it right?   How can I dare to offer an opinion when there are so many experts out there?


Writing helps me clarify my thoughts.   Blogging gives me a way of communicating with others and, hopefully, opening up a dialogue.  I’ll let my fear of getting it wrong take a back seat and plunge in.  I’ll begin with some thoughts on haibun writing.   (Haibun is a Japanese form of travelogue that was developed by the poet Basho (1644-1694).    Basho’s classic haibun is titled “Oku no hosomichi” –  (translation) The Narrow Road to the Deep Northor The Narrow Road to the Interior. )

In an article by Sam Hamill*  – – I read an explanation of ‘Oku no hosomichi’ –

“Oku means “within” and “farthest” or “dead-end” place; hosomichi means “path” or “narrow road.” The no indicates a possessive. Oku no hosomichi: the narrow road within; the narrow way through the interior.”

Hamill says of The Narrow Road –  “Basho … is not looking outside himself; rather he is seeking that which is most clearly meaningful within, and locating the “meaning” within the context of juxtaposed images, images which are interpenetrating and interdependent. The images arise naturally out of the kokoro or shin — the heart/soul/mind.”


“his journey is a pilgrimage;   it is a journey into the interior of the self as much as a travelogue; it is a vision quest which concludes insight.  The means is the end, just as it is the beginning.   Each step is the first step, each step the last.”

The Buddhist concept of the interconnection of all things resonates in Basho’s haibun and haiku.    It is in nature that Basho experiences the intense interpenetration of heart, mind and soul.   While the obvious place to take this blog post now is into a complex dissertation on the ways and means Basho employed in writing both haiku and haibun  I seem to have gone so deeply interior words are eluding me.


Hopefully I will find the words to express my thoughts in further blog posts but for now I shall ponder the complexities of kokoro in silence.  Each step is the first, each step is last…


*Sam Hamil is an American writer, peace activist and  Zen Buddhist.


When I was very young I lived with my family on the shores of a vast salt lake.  We moved to the city when I was four  – the country was left behind and never revisited.   My childhood memories are of suburban streets and holidays on the beach.    The inland lake and the flat plains surrounding it became a mythic land I visited only in dreams.

illusionReturning to the lake shore now, all these decades later, my eyes are stretched into a haze of blue.   Is this what I saw as a baby?   Did my infant eyes attempt to focus on the horizon only to drift into illusory realms where nothing is quite as it seems?   Did this vision of infinite possibilities, probabilities and improbabilities influence my approach to life? – the landscape as a Buddhist primer for babies.

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(elements of this post appeared on my old blog “Art and Life” is a different format)

Up River

Following a road through farmlands of dry yellow grass I catch glimpses of a river but there seems no way to get to it.  Just when I am about to give up I see a rough dirt track veering off towards a line of trees. Steering my little car between the ruts I bounce along to a point where the road disappeared down a steep incline.  Sensing mystery I leave my car and continue on foot.


The track winds down to an area of bushland.   A sign tells me the area was regenerated some years previously by a local fly fisherman’s club.   The trees close in around me and the little creek gurgles its way over the rocks to a meet a wider river.


I walk to the water’s edge and listen to the messages sounding in the water as it tinkles over the stones –


Looking upriver I see that perspective had vanished into a metaphor of itself and become a place to be reached in dreams –

The enchanted forest


Beyond the road side carpark a long flight of steps wound down a cliff face.   At the bottom an earthen path led me into a dark forest.   The guidebook told me the trees were ancient Moonah trees.


The path was damp beneath my feet and all sounds were muffled.   I was aware of an ancient primordial energy that was far stronger than my worldly worries.   A sense of enchantment crept over me.DSCN8803-02

As I ventured deeper into the forest moisture dripped from the tangled trees.


Contorted tree roots twisted in and around rocky mounds.  The magic of fae gathered in the secluded crevices and I felt the presence of elemental beings peeping out from the shadows.


On and on I wandered.   I felt utterly immersed in the mystery.   The feeling of enchantment was so strong I began to think I could wander here forever and never find my back home.   I took photo after photo.  Focusing on the mechanics of photography grounded me.

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Deep in the forest the light was dim.  The veils between the worlds thinned and I felt I had stepped out of time.   It was then that I came across a clearing where other visitors had built small cairns.   I gathered some rocks and made my own cairn as a offering to the deep forest magic.


The way became lighter after that and it wasn’t long before the vegetation changed.   I had a sense that I was leaving the forest and returning to the world I knew.   The problems that had bought me there no longer seemed so pressing.  Simple solutions presented themselves to me as the path began to climb back up towards the road.


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On the road to nowhere

“Santoka is considered a unique proponent of “free-style” haiku poetry, a mode that abandoned much of the customary form and subject matter of traditional haiku in favor of a direct and unadorned depiction of human experience. He was also a wandering poet and ascetic Zen priest for the last fifteen years of his life.  Santoka emphasized many of the essential qualities of Zen Buddhism in his verse, including mujo (impermanence), the necessity of sabi (solitude), the importance of simplicity in life, and the pervasive sadness that accompanies all human affairs. Many of his poems point toward the Zen goal of achieving spiritual enlightenment and serenity.   Santoka spoke also of “the vital necessity of movement and the partial release it brings to the anguish of the soul.” – from

Driving through roads that stretch for miles beside a vast salt my movement through time and space becomes hypnotic.   Fugitive and impermanent the boundaries of the lake have shifted since I was last out this way.

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Standing alone at the lake edge certainties diminish as I look into nothingness.   The opposite shore is no more than ephemeral shapes hovering in some illusory space.

Beside the lake life is simple – no more than bands of colour.   There is an emptiness that is both melancholic and serene.  No one thing is more important that any other.   All is reduced to suggestions of possibilities and the landscape itself becomes a haiku.



Memories not so much lost like tears in the rain but more coalescing in salt spray into a continuum of days – of colours – the muted grey greens of dune plants and stretches of blue sea/blue sky against a backdrop of sun bleached sand.

Childhood holidays spent wandering beaches as a genderless, ageless explorer/naturalist/botanist – leading my little brothers on expeditions to discover rocky pinnacles around the next cove where we scrambled sky high to investigate piles of broken shells cast into crevices by winter storms.

Time and colours stretching through the years to the time when I led my own children through holidays of sunny days and sandy beaches then ice creams at the shop after slogging walks along the shore.

Then children growing up and earnest discussions as to the names of things and the whys and wherefores of the moon and tides –

a pause

  • then on to lonely midlife crisis, head bowed, walks pondering the way forward.

Now, and into the future – still walking the beaches, the names and whys and wherefores ceasing to matter as some kind of larger meaning emerges – the intensity of the quests, the journeys, the lovings and the not lovings draining away into a continuum of being.




Serious Clowning

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On a quiet Saturday afternoon a clown in a campervan pulled up in my driveway.   At the time I lived in a lonely house on the edge of a salt marsh.   It was a place of shifting mists and lengthy silences.  Misfits, artists and ferals lived thereabouts and sometimes came to visit so when the clown jumped out of his campervan I wasn’t all that surprised.

He’d lost his way, he said, and was late for his engagement at a children’s birthday party.   I gave him directions then, curious, asked where he’d come from.  He told he’d driven down from the city some three hours away.   He’d worn his clown clothes complete with orange floppy wig, red plastic nose and full clown makeup the whole way.   He was a very serious clown and didn’t seem to think there was anything odd about that.

Out of the blue,
with no rhyme or reason,
serious clowning