I was noticing something today. There is this way that if you do something once, it can be whatever it is- amazing, touching, frightening, funny, or whatever, but as you repeat the experience it starts to lose something and fade. But, then strangely, if you keep repeating it, it starts to gain something else, something unexpected, that seems to come not from you, but from the experience. It is like this with old friends, old jokes,traditions like Christmas. All those things we do because we do them. After a while, the reasons we started seems almost arbitrary or forgotten, but over time, these actions gain the weight and polish of the care and attention we lavish upon them and they are nourished and grow, sending out unexpected shoots and surprising leaves.
Its weird how it can be the thinnest of things, the moment of chance, to do something once, but do it for a lifetime and it gains form and substance, like Borges's dreamed man.
What does that mean about our sitting? Was Zen intentional, necessary, or fated? Who knows; but whatever it is now, it is because we made it so with our care and love and aching knees, and racing minds.
When I awoke the other morning, there were two cats on the end of the bed. Not my bed, but thats another story that I am not going to tell.
There were two cats on the end of the bed looking, as cats do, content. When they saw I was awake, they started purring loudly. One stretched out a paw to touch my let, the other, less subtle, draped herself over me. They were content, and happy cats, or at least looked content and happy. For all I know, they are agitated and deluded cats, but I digress. The LOOKED happy and content, so loathe was I to move when nature called. I agonized over it. They were so relaxed, so trusting and calm. They had achieved an open carefree love in the shadow of my legs. With my large and protective presence they could nap contentedly, safe from concerns about dogs, hunger, the mange, or whatever cats are concerned about (if anything). They smiled cats smiles, and purred Gatling purrs. And my bladder ached. And I felt strong and undeniable guilt. Eventually I could take it no more, and I got up-cats springing up, and purring stopped. Then, they looked at me, settled in, curled down and began to purr Gatling purrs again, big feline smiles. They were fine. It was I was who disturbed.
Wow, what a lovely and clear mirror in cat fur.
The other Wednesday when I arrived at the Zendo to set up for practice, there was water on the hardwood floor. It must have dripped down though it had not been raining. Perhaps from our neighbors above. I placed the cushions in their usual spots, but later, right as people were arriving, I noticed that the water had seeped forward into one of the cushions. I remember being angry at the water for disobeying and disrupting the calming symmetry of the room. I was also so very concerned because the cushions were the generous gift of Chris Wilson and I am always extra vigilant when to care for something when it is a gift (its all a gift, sure, but that's a post for another day).
Anyway, it stuck with me, this rouge water, creeping into my plans and my order, and casting it aside. I remember checking in it during kinhin to make sure it had not again ventured into practice.
These are the things that go through my head when I sit. Who would have guessed how many water spills would be on the road to enlightenment.
I sat with the Young Dharma meditators group last night on Dolores. Really lovely group there.
We talked about anger and action. There seemed to be a schism in the group, or at least a difference of opinion in the discussion, between those who felt like anger was to be trained away, and those that felt that anger was, in itself, something deserving of our attention.
We ran a little experiment last week at WiG, in which, instead of turning away from anger, or working to transform it into compassion, we ran right at it. For 5 minutes, we worked on opening ourselves up to our anger, and seeing what happened.
You know, we spend so much time avoiding our anger, and from such an early age we are taught to repress it and disguise it as caring, that I was really surprised to see how much was going on in the terrain of anger. I focused on a few relationships that brought up anger for me. I noticed a few things, like how numbing anger was. When I was experiencing anger, I was not feeling other things. I noticed how almost every time, the anger was trying to protect me from feelings of fear.
I also noticed that it felt good. In a cleansing way. Maybe like a fever can wipe out an illness, we need anger to become totally whole and healthy.
Like most aspect of my experience thus for with Zen, I am amazed how little I know about myself. I know my stories, but I am surprisingly unfamiliar with the actual contours of my soul as they really are. Anger practice was fascinating.
Now, none of this is to recommend acting in anger, though of course, we do. It was the subject of the first Zen dharma talk I ever heard, given by Josh Bartok of Boundless Way , and I remember Josh saying, "Acting in anger is like throwing coals at your enemy...you might hit that person, but you are definitely going to burn your hand".
I guess though making a turn toward your anger, showing it and you compassion and acceptance as it is, is important to me. Somehow when you look right at it, and open your arms to that wayward child, I notice a softening, and a little space into which other emotions can move and be heard. And when I turn into anger, I can hear its story, its justifications, its validations, and once they are heard, I notice they dont mind giving way and fading.
Tonight, as I walked home from the zendo, I thought something was following me, that I was just barely seeing out of the corner of my eye. When I turned and looked, it was a shadow cast by the full moon onto the asphalt. Perhaps it surprised me because I was looking at the shadow being cast by the street light, which was facing another direction. I remember thinking it was a little eerie, and hoping it would go away. Then I realized I had no idea how I got in my head that I could only have one shadow.
But that moment when I was trying to shake the shadow, outdistance myself, made me chuckle and think about how like my relationship with my mind that was. Occasionally, it just seems like my mind is a little eerie, and I want to outdistance myself from it. Then I think, How did I ever get the notion that after zen, there would be no mind? And that was my walk home, with my shadow, neither really liking it or not, but it always there, following me in some distorted and changing way. Somewhat pretty, somehow persistant, some ways company, other ways stalking.
“A Course on Koans” is the delusion-riddled work of Chris Kufu (“Wind in the Void”) Wilson, who began practicing Zen in 1967. He regards Taizan Maezumi, Robert Aitken, and David Weinstein as his root teachers. Each of them pecked at his shell until he “completed” the never-ending koan curriculum of the Harada-Yasutani lineage.
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