3. Contemplating the Navel

Being a novice meditator,
I'm finding single-mindedness difficult.

When I was a graduate student at Yale I had a professor who insisted that when using words we must understand not only their contemporary meaning, but also their etymological origins. So, in preparation for his class, my fellow-students and I would spend quite a bit of time looking up key words in the Oxford English Dictionary. Today I am reminded of this professor as I read the label that is well-glued to my breakfast orange and discover not only that I am about to eat a 'navel' orange, but also, to my chagrin, that I'm not at all sure how the navel orange got its name. A memory from childhood has it that a navel orange is an orange that shows its belly button, while my off-the-cuff educated adult guess is that the name has something to do with the role of citrus in preventing scurvy in the British navy. No, wait that was limes, and that would be naval, not navel, wouldn't it? I put down my breakfast navel orange, turn on my computer, and look up the derivation of its name on the internet.

I soon learn that the navel orange is so named because the blossom end resembles the human navel, and that it is caused by the development of a secondary fruit within the primary fruit. As the secondary fruit develops, the navel-like structure enlarges. Interesting. So my childhood memory was pretty close.

My professor's voice urges me on "Okay, keep going; how did the orange get its name?"

Although I am quite sure that it got its name from the color of the peel and fruit, I dutifully look it up anyway.

I'm wrong.

I learn that the orange originates in Southeast Asia, and that its name (in old French "orenge" and in Spanish "naranja") is believed to be a transliteration of the Sanskrit word "naaranga," which came from the Tamil word "naru" which means "fragrant."

Having now paid due homage to my professor, I return to the task of peeling my breakfast naaranga whose blossom-end should resemble a human navel.

Discreetly, I check.

It does.

In fact, it has a very large navel-like structure and so, according to what I have just read, it should have a rather well-developed secondary fruit inside.

It does -- an orange in miniature.

I hold it closer to study it. A misshapen rind-less knob of fruit and membrane with tiny but clearly differentiated segments. I reflect on a passage from a Buddhist text on the practice of mindfulness meditation that I had read recently:

Focusing attention on the navel
tends to unify the mind
and prevents confusion.

I focus my attention on the orange and its developing fruit within.

I don't think this is what the Buddhist text had in mind.

I focus my attention on my own navel and on the developing fruit of my daily mindfulness meditation, wondering how well my spiritual awareness is developing with my practice. Concerned that its development is frequently arrested by my clinging to worldly concerns, I remind myself that, according to Buddhist scripture, the seed of faith can be sown even in the 'mud of worldly passion.' For the seed to reach fruition, however, single-mindedness is essential. Single-mindedness -- the very thing that is so difficult for a novice like me to achieve. I pick up the developing orange again, pry away one tiny, well-formed segment, and place it in my mouth. Already sweet. "When will my spiritual self-awareness be this well-developed?" I wonder. The seed had been planted in me long ago, and although it had germinated early in life, I had neglected it on and off over the years. Am I now providing it with a nourishing environment in which it can grow?

I return my attention to my breakfast orange focusing on where the developing fruit connects to the navel, becoming increasingly aware of its Source.