We almost had coffee. I was almost in your city, at almost the right time. I almost got to hear stories of your family, your work, your life. I almost got to sit across the table and watch you gesture in the air about the things which matter to you, which means, after these last few years, that they matter to me, too.
We almost talked too long into the night, requiring a polite call to your wife who was understanding, and then finished with a long walk in the cold winter air.
Cold Shower. No Problem.
The good thing about having a luke warm shower at home is that when you go somewhere else, the water is hot. It is not only hot, it is a surprise. Then you discover there is soap and a wash cloth and all manner of luxury. All those luke warm showers were for this. One hot shower with as much soap as you need to wash the dust off your feet. And a towel. One dry, fluffy, towel that smells precisely like nothing. And time: no rush. No hurry at all. Dress as slowly as you like, or hurry if you want to – your choice. You can have this every day of retreat if you like, any time you want, as long as it’s right after lunch.
I don’t like sitting all that much. The first hour is fine but somewhere between the second and third, my right leg complains and my back aches and all manner of hell breaks loose. My nose itches and my stomach twitches and my to-do list, which I am unable to remember most of the time, appears in vivid detail as a spontaneous visualization.
I don’t like walking meditation much better. I might fall over. That’s my primary experience of walking meditation. I might get lost between here and twenty-five yards from here. I will get lost. I do. I have. We are walking in a circle and I don’t know where to go. I have no idea of what to do next.
Eating Oryoki is not so bad except that everyone else seems worried. They drop a spoon and the moon comes unglued. Why not pick it up and use it. The floor is pretty clean in the monastery. I have been thinking about eating Oryoki sitting under the table. I want to see what’s really going on. Someone’s tapping their foot. Someone’s reaching into a pocket to get a small biscuit or a vitamin. Someone is touching someone else’s hand. That’s the real Oryoki, all that, because it grabs your attention and won’t let go.
I like being a Vajrayana practitioner in a Zendo. I am having a good session, sitting pretty still, compared to the people in my sangha. But everyone here is a hundred times more still than that. It is like sitting with rocks. Telephone polls, upright and straight. I like it. The candle flame and I are the only ones that flicker. I wonder if the teachers have evaporated, they are so still. The bell will ring and their forms will fall like ash. They are that still. I am sitting my best and I am squirming like a worm.
I like working in the monastery. I like cleaning what is already clean. I like organizing the arranged. I like gardening in a place that has no weeds. This is my idea of a good time. I like not having to talk. I like thinking I am "cleaning the floor, cleaning my mind." I will wax my mind. I will buff it. It will sparkle for awhile and I will see my reflection in it.
I like tea with the teacher. He makes tea from grass or something very like it. It is green and it tastes like the colour of light coming through the rice paddy in spring. He serves chocolate and he has a piece himself. He does not use a napkin and he does not use his sleeve. How does he do it? He talks in an ordinary way and he still manages to say something profound, pretty much every time. He stays on schedule. This is a sign of realization, for sure.
I like the abbess. She likes microscopes. She paints and dances and talks about dragons if no one is around. She knows the names of plants and body parts. She might be a Vajrayana practitioner stuck in a Zen body– if she gains twenty pounds and starts eating pizza, I’ll know for sure. She’s the boss and she knows it. This is the sign of a guru, they can’t fool me.
I like the monks at the monastery. They make vows when no one is looking. They sew their own clothes. They look good in those flowing black robes and they are not very snooty about it. They complain, I am sure, but they do it in private. They play home-made instruments and they cut their own hair. This means they can spend their money on movies. This is a lifestyle I can appreciate.
I don’t care much for getting up at 4 AM, but I love doing dishes in a full length apron. I think I will go back. I love that place and I love those people and I deserve to be there fairly often.
scant patience for the gradual.
The thread is long that binds us
to ourselves, to others,
to life inside the dream.
It is a matter of probability,
who we love, and how:
reason follows later
or not at all.
It's dark early and
everyone is leaving
and I am feeling for once
but tethered in love
to myself, my friends
and strangers on the street.
Only you will know what this means:
The right shoulder dropped slightly,
the back straight and still;
the thought came that
there is no trouble here--
all of this on the uncontrived outbreath,
all of this after a long walk,
all of this moved to the foreground, by love.