A close friend and dharma brother recently asked me about a term we bandy about in our community/shanga: "practice edge".  "What the hell is an 'edge' of practice?" he asked.  I used cutting metaphors, cliff metaphors, etc.  It worked, but I left the conversation feeling like I gave a thimble full of water to a thirsty man asking for a drink.  Not short-shrift, but by no means quenching.

I wound up in hospital for a few very miserable days this past week.  I'm healing well, but my sleep schedule is completely out of whack, so I was up at 4am.  I did zazen for about a half an hour lying down in the dark, then got my phone to watch something while laying there, hoping to fall back asleep for a bit.  That didn't work at all, because I made the grave mistake of watching something so utterly engrossing that I woke right up.

What an utterly fascinating film this is!  I'm not going to go on and on about it here, but suffice it to say that it stirred something in my head in that wonderfully groggy space between dreams and wakefulness.

If you look at life like a perfect, flat, uniform sheet of paper, it has four edges.  If you consider or assume that those edges define its scope in any direction, and beyond those edges is nothing (and by definition, beyond that life) you have a pretty interesting and generally useful model for the human life, or human experience.

Now, if there are no imperfections in that sheet of paper—no dimples, tears, creases or folds—you have a rather homogeneous existence.  Everything just flows evenly from edge to edge, even if that plane is twisted.  It all just goes along smoothly until it suddenly stops.

I think that would be a very boring life.

But put a crease in there, and suddenly, without affecting the contiguousity (yes, I just made that up) of the experience, you've now got more definition.  You have difference, you have realm, you have texture, you have shape.

 With that, you also have, in the case of the analogy of life experience, choice.  This side of the crease or that side?  Left or right?  North, South, East or West?  Up or down?  Do you, or don't you?

We all think that we want a smooth life.  Wrinkles, crinkles, tears or messy bits in the flow of our existence tend to upset us, make us change course, or do something in a manner not of our original or current desire.  But to quote (with minor modification) Billy Bragg; "...all (life) is strange, and you have to learn to take the crunchy with the smooth, I suppose."

As I said, I wound up in hospital recently, and at one point, I was laying in my bed, soaked in misery, watching a stunningly beautiful full moon arc across the slightly cloudy skies through the huge windows of my room, and I remembered a favorite audio bit from Alan Watts I stumbled upon a year or so ago...
"So we are living—as it were—on many levels of rhythm. This is the nature of change. If you resist it, you have dukka, you have frustration and suffering. But, on the other hand, if you understand change—you don't cling to it, and you let it flow—then it's no problem. It becomes positively beautiful, which is why in poetry the theme of the evanescence of the world is beautiful. When Shelly says:
The One remains, the many change and pass;
Heaven's light forever shines, Earth's shadows fly;
Life, like a dome of many-coloured glass,
Stains the white radiance of Eternity,
Until Death [shatters] it to fragments.
Now what's beautiful in that? Is it heaven's light that shines forever, or is it rather the dome of many colored glass that shatters? See, it's always the image of change that really makes the poem..."
Change gives us dynamism.  Difference gives us definition.  Choice gives us opportunity.  Smoothness gives us rest.  The dimples, tears, creases and folds in the fabric of our lives—those places and points where direction changes without our consent, where the shape morphs into something we're not expecting or even wanting, where roughness pushes us out of a comfortable flow—these are the edges of practice.

Space and time themselves are not smooth, we now understand.  We perceive them as so, but they're not at the most basic and fundamental level.  Quantum particles pop in and out of existence, creating a seething foam of ever-changing texture.  Time is bent by the laws of physics, slowing the closer you get to the speed of light.  As I said, we perceive them as so, but in reality, they're anything but.  The error in perception is, as always, a matter of scale.

But I'm all about texture...