Monday, October 25, 2010

When No One Is Looking

            I light a small stick of incense and step into the fine mist that hangs in the morning darkness of the Temple steps.  It’s a ritual now, when I return from a trip, to offer incense to the big Buddha.  I’m just back late last night from leading a three-day retreat with Rev’s Jay and Karen Weik and the Toledo Zen Center.  Out in their farmhouse zendo in the country, we sat under the big sky and appreciated the harvest moon which illuminated our nights. 
But this morning, I offer incense to the big Buddha that presides over the entrance to the Temple.  He doesn’t seem to mind about all my comings and goings.  I ask him if he thinks I am too busy – whether I should slow down and do less.  He doesn’t say yes and he doesn’t say no.  The cars rush by on Pleasant Street and the air is moist against my cheek.
During my absence, the little pumpkin that was in front of the Buddha by the incense holder has made its way into the begging bowl the Buddha holds in his lap.  I imagine him reaching down one silent stone arm in the middle of the night – or even in broad daylight when no one was looking.  Reaching down with gentle slow-moving fingers to pick up this fleshy orange fruit for his bowl.  But then I think that if big Buddha is operating in the deep time of his native granite, the little pumpkin which is so solid to me, must be nearly invisible to him as it flashes into being and disappears again.  In that case, only his great powers of subtle awareness allow him to see the momentary reality of something so transient as a pumpkin – or a human being.
            I suppose I am more like the pumpkin than the crushed stone that lies under the Buddha.  More like the leaves on his lap [did he go walking quietly around the grounds collecting his favorite colored fall leaves or did the trees drop them there purposefully?] than the mountain of granite out of which he was carved.  My hopping around here and there is just part of my coming and going nature.  But when no one is looking, I sit very still in the middle of the incessant movement of my life.  I am private and invisible.  Just as he, when no one is looking, has adventures we can only begin to dream of.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Smelling and Choosing

            I like to wake up early enough to walk through the darkened house.  My eyes appreciate the slow transition.  The street light falls through the windows and illuminates dependable patterns on the walls and the floor.  In the dim light my other senses awaken too.  I hear each room humming its own particular song – a performance piece that I am apparently part of as the soft shuffle of my rubber Crocs on the wooden floors bounces off wooden floors and sundry objects of furniture.  And this morning, I notice for the first time that each room and hallway has its own particular smell.  I’m reminded of a college roommate who insisted he could tell from smelling the skin of my arm, whether I had spent the day inside or outside.  At the time I was doubtful as I suspected he just wanted to smell my skin.  Looking back, I see it was both.
            Both – it’s usually both.  While we sometimes agonize over finding the one right answer – weighing the pros and cons of a decision, it may be that the true answer is both and either.  Like me, several years ago when I was riding my mountain bike through the beautiful New England woods.  It was about this time of year, leaves were just beginning to show orange and yellow.  The sky was clear and high.  I was riding over a new trail a friend had shown me the week before.  I remembered the trail until I came to the first fork.  I wasn’t sure whether to take the right or the left path.  After a moment, the left fork looked familiar so I headed down that path.  I was relieved to soon see familiar scenery and realize I had made the right choice.  I recall feeling a lovely little sense of pride in my intuition and in making the ‘right’ choice.  There were several more unremembered forks, but each time my intuition led me down the path that continued on.
            It was only several weeks later, after I had ridden those trails three or four more times, that I realized that the two trails at these forks BOTH merged back to the main trail and that at each fork, either trail would do.  My real success was not guessing the correct trail, but rather taking any trail.  Both were the right trail. 
Now, of course there are forks in our lives where the two trails apparently lead to spectacularly different places.  There are alternatives we are faced with that pose choices of radically different futures.  But more and more I suspect that there is no one choice that is correct – that both futures – that the myriad choices all lead to our life.  The most important thing is the choosing.  The choosing allows us to move forward and to learn and grow and become ourselves.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Beginning Again

For the past three years, I have been occasionally referring, in this blog, to my writing of ‘the book.’  The book where I write about the things I talk about all the time.  The book about Zen and life-coaching.  I wrote the outline, got an advance from a publisher, and have written endless pages. But I have struggled to write about what I know in a way that is truly alive. 
For me, the challenge has been how to present the living truth that does not abide in some fixed form – that is not about rules or dogma and things outside of ourselves.  And the even greater issue of how to avoid writing from the illusory position of having figured it all out.  I have often despaired of finding a form and a voice that felt true. 
While I have written much, I have been dogged by a feeling of failure.  Even the twelfth revision of Chapter One felt stiff and clunky – like someone who is working hard to write something good for the teacher.  But about two months ago, I came to the realization that while I have been ‘stuck’ not writing my book, I have also been writing my book – I just didn’t know it.  In these pages and in my journals, I have found a voice and a way of writing that feels honest and true. 
            I’m not sure of the ultimate ‘quality’ of the writing or exactly how it coheres into a book.  But I have accepted the fact that the book I need to write, the book I have written, is a book that is my love song to the world.  Not an explanation or a ‘how-to’ manual, but rather a stepping into and a presentation my own life as the way itself.   As Issa said so beautifully  ‘The man pulling radishes / pointed my way /with a radish.’
            So now I have the first draft of my book complete.  The working title is now ‘Zen Reflections of a Life Coach: Each Step is the Destination.’  Right now it is a series of short pieces loosely tied into the cycle of one year of my life.  It contains a number of the pieces that first appeared in this blog.  As part of this process, I have cleared the memory here in this blog – taken these pieces down from the web to be revised, cooked, polished, winnowed or even left as is for parts of the book. 
            I will continue my sporadic postings and greatly appreciate the kind occasional words that come back to me in my travels.  All you who have remarked on being touched by something here.  Your small encouragements have been, and continue to be, essential as I walk the ever unknown path of my life.