Certain members of the Zen Peacemaker order sew the robes they wear from scraps collected: This section is from my great aunt’s quilt and this section my mother’s baby blanket and this, ripped work-shirt of my friend who was dead before he turned 20 and it was the 80’s and we were losing our friends and it was AIDS.
When I first met these practitioners they were in the middle of a pilgrimage. They walked with no money or any kind of solid plan other than a direction (like… West). They slept on the side of the road, in barns, anywhere. They ate because someone gave them soup, rolls, a box of yesterday’s doughnuts, a carrot. If no one offered them food they didn’t eat, I suppose. I saw the group at a Dharma talk at Naropa given by a local Sensei. We heard about not being attached. I recall the Sensei was a part of one of those experiments to measure meditator’s brain. Part of the trial was this teacher went in this freezing water. How long could he could tolerate it? He sat and contemplated when you are cold be cold. That was the way to reduce the pain of suffering. I thought this was fantastic! He stayed in the water so long that the experimenters were worried. He stayed longer than anyone.
One of the peacemakers spoke from the audience. He described a recent long walk through 110-degree heat through the desert. The group saw this bus coming from way far away. I expected a similar story. When you are hot be hot right? Then he said, in response to this other talk,
OR…..When you are hot, take the bus!
This gentleness under-cut my habit of meditation as an exercise in self- improvement. Underneath the self- improvement was a self-loathing contract I had fabricated. The remark about taking the bus dismantled any sense of self-preservation one way or another. It surprised me out of my stiff comparative melody.
Last week I studied with poet, Eileen Myles. One assignment was:
Break the contract.
Poetry is a way to break the contract of the habit of our language use. She asked what contract do we have with our writing, or our class, or self? We carry unspoken contracts that we don’t even realize. We lay them on each other. We expect they will play our game. This was not only a radical idea to generate new material. This was a most liberating dharma teaching! Meditation itself is breaking the contract. I turn to watch my thoughts and experience my breath and body.
I say hello.
I may be smugly holding onto the precepts, or smiling when I don’t feel like it, in order to be good or liked or feel falsely safe or part of a community. This contract may keep me swimming in the shallow end. Maybe that’s why I like poetry and comedy and swearing and improvisation. Breaking the contract may be the most coolest gentlest thing I can do for myself and others. This notion brings me spiraling and limping in the direction of the warped bucket of the present moment. And that’s where the juice lives.
~ o ~