Risking All, Gaining More

We all change. That part is certain. Do we grow, or do we decay? Lao Tse says that most people live either in fear of death, fear of life, or fear of change. Only the one who is released from all these fears is really alive. When we embrace our own death we begin to live. When we begin to live, we encounter change. When we accept change we can become who we really are.

Do we just consider an idea, and say, “yep?” If we’re not doing the change, we’re not making the change, are we? In some places a novice monk will spend a few weeks in the crypt, with only the bones of monks long dead for company. This helps him take it to heart that his own bones will one day join them. Having passed his time there he can join the living, with the liberating reminder, “brother, we are going to die.”

Not all of us have this option. We can, though, take slow walks through graveyards and consider the brief “biographies” on the stones. “Beloved wife, 1887 – 1924.” Only thirty-seven years. Where there no children? How did she die? How did she live? Another one lived a long life, and has a tall, marble monument where the others are limestone. Yet now, who, even, was he?

We can visit people in nursing homes. Many have had rich lives, now live as prisoners. Some have raised children who now show up on the odd Thanksgiving, or maybe a birthday. Where – and how – will our own lives end?

This kind of exercise hurts. If it doesn’t, then we’re not doing it right, are we? When we embrace death we find that is not only cold, but prickly. We all tend to be too full of ourselves until we’ve been properly wounded. But then, the choice is ours, to grow, or not. Either way, we change.

One Hand Clapping – Loudly!

Shunryu Suzuki answered that age-old koan, “what is the sound of one hand clapping?”  The sound has always been, he said, or it would not be. If we hear the sound that two hands make, then we hear it, and it is gone. The one hand is already the sound. Do we hear it? Do we not hear it? No matter. All that exists has been before, and will continue to be. In our duality we can’t see that. Before a child is born, or conceived, there is no child, and only for a few years does she exist before she dies. Yet every life – indeed, all of life – is an extension of the life of God. This universe is alive with the Divine life, or it is not alive at all. Whence it comes, there also it must return, because that is its home. That is where it belongs.

Is this strange, that we speak of “being” and “existence” as two things? One is but the extension of the other. What exists, is, but it has become evident. It is more definable. An old Christian sage, and I forget his name, said, “if an intelligent person asks you if God exists, then tell him, ‘no.’ For all that God is cannot be encompassed with any meaning which we give to the word, ‘existence.’ ”  The ancient Celts spoke of all nature – not just mankind, or not just the enlightened by any such means – as being alive with Divine life, or not at all. There is only one life, and only one Source of all life, and of all nature. A recent survey in the US showed nearly half of all people calling themselves atheists had experienced this wonder, not to mention those who claimed some religion or spirituality. We come from God, we go to God, and in the meantime, as the two hands are clapping they clap in God.

Suzuki Roshi goes on to tell us that when we sit, when we bow, when we go about our day’s business, it is Zazen to do so simply. When we pray, let it be in such simplicity, as putting one foot before another, simply walking the path. Have you ever heard a child on a journey? “Are we there yet? When do we get there? Now are we there?” The adult knows simply to keep the vehicle moving, because the journey is the getting-there, If we get attached to our goal it does nothing to get us there sooner, but makes the trip all the harder when we could be enjoying the view. So, an attitude of, “look at me, I’m driving,” does nothing. I knew a couple of men who invited me to join them in their prayers. Each of them focused on doing everything Just Right. Bowing at the right moments, even reciting the prayers in a language their hearts did not know. Striving to attain. Struggling to do everything perfectly, by some imagined pattern. What could have been a release from the ego became instead the ego’s own exercise. In each time I found myself wishing for the nearest way out of that room. The strife was unbearable. Within a year, each of them was given over to terrible passions.

Rather than always doing, to get this or that “done,” is it not better to be where we are, who we are, and simply doing what we are doing in the peace of the moment? The drive will be more pleasant, the walk more restful, and the destination will come as a welcome surprise. 

Being Everything by Being Nothing

In a story I read recently a woman was overwhelmed by the realities of just being a mom. Her child was having one of his “moments” in a public park. Her other children were waiting in line, so to speak, for the attention they needed. The same issues rolled in on her. How long would this last? How could she calm her child? How was she being seen by the other mamas in the park, whose own days out were being disturbed by all this? Another lady offered to help. What was she really offering, she wondered, pat answers, shaming remarks, or more of the “if only” advice she’d grown to dread?

She was amazed to find none of this – only someone willing to be of service to her in whatever form was needed. Continue reading “Being Everything by Being Nothing”

Standing in my Own Way

The Way. That’s the Tao, right? Are there two taos? Or possibly more? We speak of the Tao as the Way of the universe – its purpose, or its principle, or even the guiding hand behind and through it all. Everything in the universe has its own purpose, though, and its own principle. A dog has a dog-ness that no cat can have, and a river has a river-ness different from a tree or a mountain. You have a human-ness that is special to human beings, and a you-ness that is only yours. Continue reading “Standing in my Own Way”

Are you normal? Can you prove it?

Are you normal?

Are you normal? Can you prove it?

A conversation with my wife, who is a very good friend of mine, led to this. She said that her own parents saw being “normal” as a kind of curse. My own upbringing was the exact opposite. There was a lot of pressure to conform, but nobody seemed to be able to say just what it was I was supposed to conform to. Trying to be like other people, after all, makes us afraid to do anything everybody else isn’t doing, doesn’t it? Continue reading “Are you normal? Can you prove it?”

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