Picture One: Seeking the ox. Ten Oxherding Pictures. Attributed to Shubun (n.d.) Japan, Muromachi period.
Handscroll, ink and light colors on paper.
SEEKING THE OX
Few can foresee whither their road will lead them, till they come to its end.J. R. R. Tolkein
I have been feeling nostalgic this week. It was five years ago today that I flew into New York to interview for a graduate program in art therapy. That trip was only the second time I had ever been to New York.
The first time I visited New York was in 1973. I flew into the city one bright spring afternoon and, as the pilot banked the plane over the East River, I unbuckled my seat belt and stood in the aisle so I could catch a glimpse of the Statue of Liberty. My ultimate destination was Princeton University to visit my cousin. He was not able to pick me up at LaGuardia and sent a friend in his place. The aforementioned friend met me at the airport gates in a navy blue blazer, striped tie, buttoned down oxford, khakis and suede bucks. His Ivy League preppiness in combination with Manhattan's operatic vastness was unlike anything I had ever experienced.
We only spent a few hours in the city, an afternoon largely centered around an ice cream sundae at Schrafft's (probably somewhere near Rockefeller Plaza) and a collision between the front of his car and the rear of a yellow taxi (just outside the doors of Penn Station). I was in New York no more than three hours -- but how those three hours have stayed with me. It was the first time I had traveled so far on my own. Looking back, I regard my first trip to New York as one of the markers of my entrance into young adulthood.
Flash-forward almost thirty years.
Second trip. This time, instead of the Statue of Liberty, the city greeted me with the pavé sparkle and sapphire velvet of a Manhattan skyline at dusk. Coincidentally, my travel package placed me in a hotel in the area of Rockefeller Plaza. However, thirty years later, Schrafft's was long gone and I was a lifetime away from the girl who stood in the aisle of an airplane to see the Statue of Liberty for the first time. Looking back from this vantage point, I see now that the second trip was another beginning as well.
There are two journeys in a lifetime. The first is in young adulthood. We seek to learn about the world and the Self, the adaptive Self, the one which is shaped by parents, culture, institutions. It is a normal developmental stage, one which lends itself to building careers and family. However, if we are lucky, sometime in midlife, we begin our second journey. It is the second one in which we discover the authentic Self, the one which transcends the parameters of our adaptive Self and our heretofore known world. What lies within each journey is, of course, unknown at the beginning. As we begin, we can only hope and imagine.
There are many ways of viewing the "soul's high adventure," as Joseph Campbell would put it. The Ten Oxherding Pictures from Zen Buddhism is just one. But whether you define your process through the visual images of ox taming, or the narrative stages of the hero's journey, or the mystical symbolism of alchemy, you begin the journey in the same way with each -- by first hearing the call to seek a higher Self. What follows next is nothing less than all the joys and sorrows of the world -- in other words, the experience of Life.