BURNING THE CANVAS

“Make your mind a blank slate,” the monk told us. We were sitting in the wooden temple, performing our daily meditation cycle. It was around 6:30 in the morning, though the bells had yet to chime. I focused on my heartbeat, calming myself. The goal of enlightenment was a difficult process. I had been told to make my mind a blank slate, in a few moments, the monk would instruct us further.

“Now, make your mind empty,” said the monk with a quiet yet firm tone. It was at this point that most disciples struggled. How, in fact, does one create nothing? I was sitting with my legs crossed in the lotus position. My hands were at my knees, palms facedown so that my fingers slumped down, fully relaxed. Every disciple was given the choice of meditative positions, right down to the direction they faced, to further calm their mind. The idea was to become one with the world. In history, but one monk had become fully at peace in this way, but he became unable to speak after his awakening, and in truth he departed from most human communication in general.

I focused my mind. I could picture the blank slate before me—an empty canvas, endless, with no sides or edges. I could feel my heartbeat slow from a normal speed. Thump. Pause. Thump. And so on. Then, I attempted to remove the canvas from my mind, until nothing was left. At first, I tried to condense the canvas, to put it inside a box equally infinite, and make the box disappear. But how could I possibly erase something that was infinite? After that, I tried to eat away at the canvas from the middle, like a fire as it burned from the center of a paper to all edges. In my mind, I could almost feel the heat, as the sparks became a flame, and the flame became a wall of fire, and finally the wall of fire erupted from all ends of my mind. I held my breath, to snuff the oxygen out and force the flame to go out. I could feel my heart rate quicken, straining against the lack of sustenance. But the fire had spread to far. How could I compete with a flame the burns infinitely?

I recreated the canvas in my mind again, each time attempting to remove it in new ways. Each time, failing. By the time the bells struck 7:30, I had become drenched in sweat, despite remaining motionless the whole time. My mind had become a battleground against the forces of itself. By the time the clock struck 8:00, I was grateful our meditation session was at an end. I exhaled deeply, and opened my eyes. When they had closed, the sun was still below the horizon, yet now it had brightened the whole day. The monk crossed the floor of the temple to me, and put a hand on my shoulder.

“You are making good process, Seigfried.”

“I don’t feel like I am making progress,” I lamented. It was exhasperating.

“Why do you struggle?” The monk’s question seemed rhetorical, but I knew he expected an answer.

“I struggle because when my mind is a blank slate, it, like my imagination, is infinite.” The monk made a small smile, revealing no teeth, but clearly happy with my answer.

“If your mind is infinite, perhaps you should seek not to remove infinity, but to alter it.”

“I have altered it!” I gasped, “I burned the canvas away and then tried to snuff out the fire, but how does one snuff out infinity?” I turned away from the monk angry. The monk nodded to me, but I could sense his smile had disappeared. He walked away to leave me alone in my own thoughts.