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Vigil

At 4:23 in the morning, it’s ok to give up. I’ve been lying in this lovely, very tidily comfortable hotel bed waiting for sleep to find my thrumming body. Despite the plump pillows and the cozy sheets, I have simply passed the night listening to the hum of the heating unit punctuated by the ebb and flow of the traffic on the street below. My inadvertent vigil has not made for an altogether unpleasant trance. Even so, it has not been sleep either.

My mind just could not let go. In about an hour and a half, we check my 15-year-old daughter in to the hospital where they will work a couple of catheters up to her heart via her femoral artery and vein from incisions that they will make into the front of the top of her leg in order to close off a blood vessel that has not been needed since before she was born and now is diverting oxygenated blood flow from circulation to her body back into her lungs.

She is not in any immediate danger from this minor defect, and the odds are that her procedure will go quite smoothly. Even so, I have not slept. Kanjizai has had plenty of opportunity to observe my self at rest this night and get to know her. Jack Duffy Roshi once wrote, a few years ago in a piece titled “The Undying Mare” that “today is a good day because I am jagged.” I wrestled and wrestled with that line. The best I can make of it is that to be alive to it all, to hear the cries of the world and meet them in compassionate intimacy, is what makes it good, albeit, at times less than comfortable. Tonight is a good night because I am jagged.

My five o’clock alarm has now gone off. It is time to get dressed and head to the hospital.

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Taking refuge

We in the Diamond Sangha tradition, as well as Buddhists the world over, chant the Ti Sarana: “Buddham saranam gachami. Dhammam saranam gachami. Sangham saranam gachami.” We combine the traditional recitation with translation by reciting it the second time in English: “I take refuge in the Buddha. I take refuge in the dharma. I take refuge in the Sangha.”  On the one hand, I can’t help but think that the idea or act of taking refuge is about as pretty much fundamentally un-Zen as it gets.  In order to take refuge from your life, you’d have to be separating yourself from it, and separating the refuge from the life, and well, that’s just not very tathagata now, is it?  Zen, though, is about what is, and part of what is is the suffering, distress, and simple difficulty of daily life.  Sensory inputs over a day add up, and if some of them have been difficult in some way, that cortisol builds up in the blood stream.  Things get hard, and it gets harder to just be with them, and so we seek refuge.  I know I do, at least.

The only trouble is that my refuge, if I am truly honest about it, tends far more often to be found in cocktails, Facebook, and tv shows bought on amazon.com than in the three treasures of Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.  In the middle of raising 4 children and all the various and sundry responsibilities of being a good suburban warrior, it’s just so much easier to turn to dulling my senses and distracting myself than to stay with it, be alive to it, experience it, and release it on the fly.  Even at home, where my cushions are as close as the liquor cabinet, I have myself convinced that it’s somehow so much harder to drop and take a few minutes’ zazen than to make a drink and pull out my cell phone to see what my friends are sharing.

I know that the momentary distraction actually takes me further from the relief I crave, and yet I still do it.  The very ease by which such refuge can be taken belies the fleeting nature of the remedy.  The longer I practice this non-practice, the more reinforced it becomes—like anything we do.  I do not seem to lack the intrinsic motivation to make this change.  I want it, and yet, I still seem to lack something that I need to make it happen.

Well, here’s my chance.  I’ve been put on a couple of antibiotics, one of which reacts poorly with alcohol.  So, for the next two weeks at least, there’s one habit extrinsically changed for me.  Also, I’ve exhausted the new batches of episodes of the two television shows of which I am fond.  What’s more, I’ve been working on a little behavior shift of leaving my cell phone on the kitchen counter. All of which means there are a few big chinks forming in the wall shielding this heretofore insurmountable habit-change.

Through practice, I hope to learn to carry that refuge with me. I hope to be the refuge, not to separate or shield myself from life, but to be with it, in it, of it, to live in intimate presence with each and every fleeting, unique beautiful moment, whether that beauty be in gazing on a lovely sky or being shrieked at by a discontent child. Like the Buddha, I hope to release this exhausting resistance and engage the dharma, all of it, in the full intimacy of the Sangha of whole wide world.

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5-year-old roshi

Dharma gates are countless. Sometimes they are little, redheaded 5-year-old boys. Reading that, you likely have an idea of what I mean, of what he is like: silly, smiley, at times even a bit wild. This one, though, wasn’t always like that.

He was 16 months old when we met, before we ever knew that I’d come to be a mother to him. What I will never forget about him then is the vast, expansiveness of his gaze. When he looked at me, I felt enveloped. Truly there’s no other word. His Buddha-gaze held me in deep, intimate connection. He didn’t hardly speak at all then, but with a gaze like that, who would need words?

I’ve now been a mother to him for about three and a half years, since he was just over 2 years old. I have seen how, over time, he has become ever more rascally, impish, and even at times, downright difficult. I go on mothering him, knowing that the being with that profound gaze is still in there, even if I don’t see him very often. Really, though, that’s a leap of faith that I have to take and retake every day, day after day after day, especially when he kicks the peacefully-resting dog, or he takes a spray bottle and starts squirting the paper lantern on the lamp in the living room, or when he whines and cries like a banesidhe when told that, yes, he needs to eat the two slices of cooked carrots in his stir-fry.

Then, sometimes, he reminds me.

On Thursday, I kept him home from kindergarten, since he had come down with a touch of the stomach flu, the fever from which lasted on into Friday morning. Thursday was typical kindergartener sick-day stuff: play with this or that, and keep the requests for screen time (a rare indulgence in our tv-free household) on a continuous loop.

It was completely different on Friday morning. He had slept in until about 8:30, at which point he came out and sleepily pointed back toward what I thought was his room, saying what I heard as, “I want to ride one of those.” I told him that I didn’t understand what he meant, and he got up and walked toward the bedrooms, stopping in the hallway, which is where we have our home zendo, pointed at the scroll above the altar, and said, very clearly, “I want to paint one of those.”

Thinking that sounded like a nice way for him to spend the morning, I said, “Oh! Sure!” and got out my calligraphy supplies, and a few sheets of paper. I thought to myself, “This is kinda cute. I better take a video to show Pappa later.” So, I pulled my smartphone from my pocket and started shooting video. The first few papers he painted, you can imagine what they looked like, darling child-conceived forms recognizable only to their creator. So, I stopped the camera. I then started it again on a lucky whim, and then…oh my, and then.

Then, Blake looked down at his empty paper, looked up, got up out of his seat, and said “Yeah, and I’m gonna go check for one I know, that I can write.” He starts walking to the hallway zendo, saying, “They’re all important.” Once he was in front of the scroll he said, “Oh, oh, yeah. The big one there,” as he looked at the character Gyo up at the top. His gaze then drifted down, focusing on a character at eye level for him in the center column. He carefully considered it, pointed at it, and waved his hand in the air as if he were writing it. “I think I can draw that one,” he said as he ran back to the table. “I know exactly how to draw this one. Exactly,” he went on as he climbed back into his seat, took up the brush, paused thoughtfully and considered his actions a moment, and proceeded to gracefully and fluidly write it. “There, I did it.” Indeed, he did, plain as plain.

As a mother, I do find again and again, that I tend to mentally put my children into boxes. “Wild little boy” takes less of my head and heart to process than “this child, presenting whatever behavior, posture, expression, or words they may be in this moment.” Intimacy is about being present, here and now, dealing with what is, and not the fictions that we spin for ourselves about it. Here, with this moment he busted so far out of his usual persona of late that it just shattered it in my mind, at least for now. I hope I can hold onto this, not just with him, and not just with all my children, but with everyone.

I hope not to interact with my mental dossiers, assessments, and judgments. Those are all fundamentally flawed and obsolete almost from their making. Right here, right now. This person, this breath, this moment. All of it. Always.

Thanks, Baby. Mammina needed to walk through that dharma gate.

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Aching

Whether it’s in my knees or in my heart,
On my cushions or in my home,
The aches creep in and remove me
From my own presence.
The stronger I resist,
The deeper the roots of the ache grow.
How do I release it?
If I do not resist, it swallows me whole.
Leads me nowhere but tears and withdrawal.
To wallow in such would be ridiculously indulgent.
Even writing this poem is too much.
Yet, as I keep up my resistence,
Attempting to soldier on,
my struggle eventually precludes all other efforts.
It seems as if indulgence and neglect
Are at every turn.
How to allow the ache,
hear it,
feel it,
let it breathe–
Without fighting,
Without surrendering,
How to ache and live.
This is anguish.
To resist what is.
Acutest anguish.
I tell myself that I accept.
I accept!
I accept things as they are.
I may not like them,
But I accept them.
It is a sad resignation, though,
And its very counterfeit nature
Betrays me back into the hands
Of my anguish.
Liking and disliking
Is a disease of the mind.
I ache for my own compassion.
Where is my heart?
Aching.
And so it begins again.

A spontaneous poem from January 11, 2011

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About it all

“It is essential at the beginning of practice to acknowledge that the path is personal and intimate. It is no good to examine it from a distance as if it were someone else’s. You must walk it for yourself. In this spirit, you invest yourself…”

That’s from Aitken Roshi’s Taking the Path of Zen, as quoted by Tricycle on October 16, 2013.

So, this is me, my story, personal and intimate, as I walk this path and do my best to sift out dharma from delusion. I am no teacher, just a loving wife, busy mother of four, and devoted student of the Way, enduring chronic illness and life in the suburbs.

When I’m not making lunches, signing permission slips, or driving endless little ensos here on our island, I take my refuge in the Dharma, the Sangha, and, of course, the Buddha. “However,” as Aitken Roshi continues, “we do not owe fundamental allegiance to him, but to ourselves and to our environment.” (ibid) And so, I write about and embrace not just my Zen studies, but it all, every bit of the tathagata, even the lunches and permission slips.

A couple years ago, my teacher, Jack Duffy Roshi told me that being able to make a mature expression of the dharma was essential to the practice. Well, here’s my expression; I can only trust that the maturity will come in time.

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And then I posted something else

So, I’m wondering what this theme looks like with a few posts stacked up.  So, I’m taking a minute to type in some more dummy text to fill the space and see how it looks.  It’s better than Lorem Ipsum, I guess.  Really, though, it’s likely little more than a touch of productive procrastination.  I have a whole list of post ideas.  A list, I tell you!  A whole list! Much idea, such words!  And yet, here I am.  I don’t know what’s holding me back.  It’s been years since I deleted my domain, and that was years after writing on it regularly.  This blogging, it’s old hat for me.  Gah, like, a really old hat.  Like an old, dusty, crumpled hat that needs to be shaken out, rinsed off, and reshaped.  It still fits; it just doesn’t look so great again yet.  It will.  At least, to me it will.

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It's so fun getting to know a new theme and how it expresses the inpute, such as this Alt text
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And then I posted something

This is a test post.  This is only a test post.  Had this been an actual post, the screen that you are viewing would contain stories, anecdotes, explications, rants, or raves that you would have found interesting, compelling, poignant, moving, or even, possibly, enlightening.  This concludes our test of the emergent blogposting system.  Thank-you.

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