Learn the backward step that turns your light inwardly to illuminate your self. Body and mind will drop away, and your original face will be manifest.
I walk three steps forward and then think, ‘ I look good in tights’, then take two steps back.
Macintosh Lake. I’m walking in a colorful spandex stream of people in their hats and water bodies and bottles. If they are in couples they are talking fast— to each other, into phones or they listen with pods pressed in ears. Adults talk and dogs smell. Children look. Sometimes walking looks painful. Walking fast is difficult. Out of a group of three one person can barely keep up. The other two don’t notice. They pretend they are the same I think. The bodies are all kinds. And the dogs bodies as well.
A young girl, day-glo pink bike helmet carefully removes rocks from yesterday’s arrangement and places them straight from land through water. Reminds me of object arrangement. I try to memorize it for later in the same way I tried to memorize Kobun Chino Roshi walking quietly to the altar and lighting incense. The girl carefully walks as far out as she can on her stepping stones carrying a rock and then places another; then walks back, lifts another, brings it along, extending her path as she goes.
When author, Annie Dillard was a girl she looked into this microscope at a drop of water. As the drop of water evaporated, the community of microorganisms went into chaos, they moved faster and faster until they died.
Saturday while I organized my files and cleaned my desk I had the coaches on my screen. Tony Robbins shocks people by swearing and jogging them out of habitual behavior. For example, a young man says, “I want to kill myself.” Tony says, “Those are some fucking nice colorful fucking shoes.” Soon the suicidal guy is being lifted around the whole arena by 100s of people. Tony Robbins gives him the five thousand dollar training free. Now I know how to double my income, what type of person I am. I know when I listen I win people, meditation is the key to success, and I know, I’m worth it! Don’t give up.
In India we put on our white clothes and took the train South. Thousands of us ran as fast as we could for our close-to–the-guru-as-possible spaces and waited for so long all crammed together. The music came on in spirals and then a man floated around us. People were freaking out they were so excited. Begging for a gift. Sparkling ash materialized and fell out of his hands into some people’s hands. The ash was warm.
But it was India and I expected miracles there. The miracle for me was on the train.
The train back to Bangalore was called (for no obvious reason), “Bangalore Express”. It seemed to stop randomly. The joke was that ‘express’ meant the train expressed itself and had nothing to do with speed. On this train I understood my first-line needs: clothes, food, shelter. And I knew I needed love. Then, second, I knew I needed a job I loved and I knew I should listen more, and speak well. I knew that I could go home, step in the stream of exchange and be a part of the world I was shy of.
Today I pretended I was walking backwards to look at the mountains but I was really just walking backwards.
The great Zen Master of the Soto school, Dogen Zenjji says, “Take the backward step.” He says, “no gaining idea.”
Barbara said it’s a way to help our alignment, pelvis, our pain. Try it. Turn around. Stand. Walk backwards.* Everything’s different right? Backwards stepping uses muscle combinations the body and brain are not used to so it wakes us. It would be a different story at Macintosh Lake if everybody stopped, turned and walked backwards. What if our candidates and teachers, neighbors, family’s, lovers, stopped, dropped the wheel and weapons and hammers and cookware, turned around and took the backward step? Maybe children could lead us in the game. Of course Dogen Zenjji was speaking metaphorically. Or was he?
As a figure skater I knew the power was in backward moving.
I skated backwards and forward proudly wearing my ribbons, bright red then bright green and then gold, pinned on my forest green wool sweater my grandmother knit. The coaches gave us ribbons of various colors as we passed tests. I borrowed a skating skirt from the Rockwell twins for tests. Their mother sewed real skating dresses and skirts. I had this plaid skirt, which was ordinary wool, like you would wear to school, just short for skating. You couldn’t buy these smooth skirts with the slight hemline flair in 1966. Mothers got the McCall’s pattern and cut and sewed them out of stretchy polyester pastels with their Singer machines. Mothers got up early to drive their girls to 5:45 patch. That’s when you practice your figures. Each person gets her own rectangle of ice. Push off and circle and lift to turn swiftly then slow… and hope you don’t leave pick marks. There were blades for figures, dance, and blades for freestyle. I just switched them out tightening tiny screws on skates. Before I put the skates on I circle foot: A, B, C…. I rode my maroon Raleigh three speed in all the weathers, and the mothers gave me chicken and vegetable soup. I could wear ordinary sweat clothes for patch.
Priscilla Hill was our town’s famous young person. Her mother sewed a skating outfit for Priscilla and then one for herself. Mrs. Hill stood at the side of the rink where she shouted encouraging tips. Priscilla was tiny, hair in a perfect knot and serious face. She could spin around in a backbend, kick her leg back, and reach over her head for her skate blade, other arm extended up, fingers positioned as if she was sitting on her couch sipping tea.
We pump up our living bodies and shear them down. We tell our pain to go away then body gets this shunned message. We hate the pain. Then we just hate. It hurts to walk. It hurts to push. Dar Williams sings about this end of summer time “we push ourselves ahead…” *
In the Zen culture there is talk of practicing in a grandmotherly fashion. Landing here in this body—what seems like a burden can be delight. I can look closely at pain or sense of weight. I say, “hello”. The earth doesn’t shout at herself across the ice to go faster, spin harder, more revaluations, and I don’t either. I don’t have to say, “how clumsy” when I fall out of a triple sow cow. I can breathe tenderness there. I can lie on the ice for a moment. I don’t have to pretend I didn’t fall, it didn’t happen. I don’t have to catch up, get out in front, or race ahead. I can go along at a changeable pace. Sure, I might want to run for the bus or away from the skunk, and her tail. And if I slow way down I may be able to feel, as Emily Dickonson writes, “the cricket sang/and set the sun…”*
Because of a nine-year-old girl’s architecture I can walk on some stones carefully. Stones that don’t go anywhere, but give me a view of the water while keeping my feet this side of dry. Occasionally I can turn around and walk another way. I can take a small step back, guru to myself, tending to my steps the grandmotherly way.
* If walking is not an option for you mix something else up, gently look left and turn your head right.
*Listen to “End of Summer” by Dar Williams: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=McyPesx6lWc
*Emily Dickinson, Selected Poems. Dover, New York. “Evening” p.46.