There is another world and it is inside this one. *
~ Paul Eluard
I arrive with headphones and IPod, open mouth, and through an enormous amount of injections, am numbed to the bone. Should I try this sans music, lie back and be with every flutter, emotion, ounce and inch? I had heard that a well-loved Marin County Zen teacher had hip surgery while awake. Isn’t that the point, to be awake? Could I lose my attachment to this body? Then the pain that I feel is not my pain, only pain. The rest is suffering. There is some shame that I am not a good Zen girl. Oh well. May I use the bathroom for the third time this hour before we get started?
A week before the dental implant I am sitting zazen for the 6th hour of the day, listening to a Dharma talk at Hokoji temple. The thought of the up-coming surgery enters my mind and I feel dread—like I can feel my brain tighten. During the talk I ask Ian about how to be present during surgery, and then I feel silly. I know what to do. Breathe in and out. I am more fascinated with taking my practice into what I do every day than to achieve some special blissful state of being. So is Ian. The Buddha too. Shakyamuni’s colleagues were driving hard to “get out of here” through rituals of neglecting the body. They wanted an enlightenment that hovers above the ordinary world. Shakyamuni Buddha was concerned with this world, and the intense suffering here. He found enlightenment in the beings of homes, cities, meadows, forests and rice fields.
Dr. Cole said I don’t have to use the rubbery mouth thing (praise be!). She says titanium will be pressed into my jawbone. I know the first drill is tiny, the second, larger, and the third, biggest. She tells me the first drill is over, eyes shining, as if this were a rare and exciting event. I never open my eyes to see it. She tells me it is strange and long and a different kind of feeling. This may move your head a little. Oh.
Suzuki Roshi says, To give your sheep or cow a large, spacious meadow is the easiest way to control him.** My pasture is large enough. I have choices for this moment. I can react with fear or I can appreciate the privilege of being here. I let go and listen to Phillip Glass and imagine dancers rolling, and leaping and sliding. I invent a story like my friend Heather did about a few talking animals who were sick in different ways. I soften the thoughts and go into the moving belly of breath. I think of Chloe, still afraid of trashcans in the park and going through doorways. She both wants and fears Steve and dogs and everyone else. I desperately want Chloe to understand, no one is going to hurt you. We love you. We will take really great care of you. You can relax here. You are safe here. You can express yourself. I’m like Chloe. I am afraid of losing control. I can tell myself the same things as I tell Chloe. Dr. Cole is helping me. She knows how. There is nothing to fear here. No one will hurt me.
Once sesshin is over it still goes on…continuously. What happens inside of retreat is not the end. I don’t make anything special happen. Retreat works. It doesn’t matter if I’m good at sitting, or half-asleep or doing it right. It works despite my good intentions and wandering mind. On day three I wake up and cling less onto my sense of what is me and right and mine. On the fourth day I wake up eager to sit. I am a part of this dark morning, the breath of this place, the sound of the mice jumping in the walls.
Sesshin continues when I leave the formality of the Zendo, throw my things into the back of my Honda, check my reflection in the rearview and drive down El Salto and into what I call my life.
Mouth open, drills moving inside my head, I realize fear is a habit, an automatic, re-membered response. A habit is underneath wisdom and delight about current circumstances. Habits are natural to us. As familiar and unconscious as picking up my toothbrush, fear comes disguised as sleepiness, anger, self –confidence. Shoulder’s creep up, neck and jaw tighten, belly loops. Through the organic practice of sitting the mind slows. What was unconscious becomes conscious. The meadow opens and what blooms there is as individual as it is collective.
I give in to the moment. Dr. Cole and assistant, Audrey float around me sticking drills and needles and gauze in my mouth, giving me water and pulling water out, altogether capable and beautiful, in their soft thin pink translucent gowns and bouffants. I place my hands on my belly, relax my shoulders and neck and let them do their work.
Grey and raining after titanium is in and holes are drilled. Shawna at the front desk gives me flowers the color of the flag for the three day weekend. Steve drives me home and leaves me on the couch to watch season three of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. I can’t believe how great it is to lay there and watch this show all day and evening with my juice of carrot, celery, kale. I say to myself, this is binge watching.
Our television heroine sees the world as if for the first time with equanimity and surprise and a certain misunderstood literalness in each new sight. (Spoiler alert). Through an aptitude test Kimmy finds out her vocational calling is to be a crossing guard. The school for crossing guards is as rigorous as Kung Fu training; to Kimmy, it is just as serious.
After so much sitting, when I get up and sweep the Zendo floor every thing is this one gesture and piles into this moment. I am dumb to the rest, yet the rest is here with me also.
Through this slowness I suppose mind expands to meet the expanding world. There is room here. And here. I see my habits. I see the ways of people and animals, wracked with emotions and theatrical… perform themselves without knowing they are doing so. On the other hand swallows fly and land. Cars stop for pedestrians. Moments like these quickly come and they forever go. I am their witness. I see you, people, your beauty, tenderness.. . Tenderness also means to be sore, bruised, raw, sensitive, like my mouth today.
The nod from a branch of hackberry tree, license plate numbers all threes on the car in front, peonies around a grave, all teach me through their invitation. I don’t have to make anything happen. It’s occurring spontaneously, everywhere. Sitting itself is practice for the event—my days and nights, this world.
~ o ~
* From Michael Stone’s newsletter
** Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind, Shunryu Suzuki. p.31 print