The Smallest Actions

Editor’s Note:  I’m a huge admirer of the Rev. Duncan Ryuken Williams who writes with such clarity and compassion.  In his latest post, he cites Ruth Asawa’s wire sculptures as a metaphor to the web of connections that bind us together. The conflicts we face must be resolved for in the end we have a shared fate. Thank you for allowing East Wind ezine to repost your message.

Hello friends,

Last month, I wrote about how placing a USPS stamp of artist and WWII American concentration camp survivor Ruth Asawa’s wire sculptures onto a sealed envelope led me to consider the “small” actions, such as letter writing or placing a voter’s ballot into the mailbox, that carry the expansiveness and interconnectedness of the dharma.

The image of the Jeweled Net of Indra from the Avatamsaka Sutra invites us to see ourselves as a precious jewel in an infinite net of jewels; the surface of each jewel polished in such a way as to serve as a mirror to view each other in a seamless interconnected net. Even the smallest actions we take in this open and expansive web of life effects a karmic reverberation that resonates through time and space.

Ruth Asawa, Untitled (S.372), circa 1954, iron wire, 34 ½ x 24 x 24 inches. Black Mountain College Collection, gift of Lorna Blaine Halper, 2007.27.09.33. © Estate of Ruth Asawa/Artist Rights Society (ARS), NY, image David Dietrich.

Yet for many of us in 2020, our worlds don’t feel particularly expansive. Indeed, our lives may feel boxed in by walls of economic uncertainty, racial injustice, climate change, and a global pandemic. In a moment when those four walls of oppression seem to be closing in and constraining our vision, we need perspective from artists like Ruth Asawa to see the Jeweled Net clearly.

Several years after she was released from the Rohwer camp in Arkansas, Asawa spent time observing indigenous wire-basket making techniques in Toluca, Mexico. This technique became the primary inspiration for her knotted wire, which she describes as “forms, which interweave and interlock … done with a line because a line can go anywhere.” In these uncontainable, liberated lines we break through walls and boundaries.

When we feel boxed in, we just need a small crack to look at the horizon beyond; to see an interlinked world where we are not alone, where liberation is possible when we forge solidarities with other human and even non-human beings. Even our smallest actions can resonate throughout the universe when we weave our lines skillfully, turning constraints into freedoms.

As we approach the November 3rd election, I encourage you to celebrate the things we can do toward building resilience and solidarity, whether that looks like signing a petition, checking in with a loved one, offering water to protesters, filling out the Census, or placing a stamp on your mail-in-ballot.

What are the small actions you envision that can reverberate throughout the Jeweled Net?

Kindest regards,

Duncan

Rev. Williams is the author of American Sutra: A Story of Faith and Freedom in the Second World War  available via Amazon.

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