Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Vigorously doing nothing

A blogger I like was interested to learn that there is a Center for Action and Contemplation.  This center says it is about "integrating a contemplative lifestyle and compassionate action," but at first glance the two things seem like opposites, don't they?  We go on retreat and come home slowed way down, quiet mind.  And imperceptibly or all at once "the world" rushes in, and we are back in action, like cartoon roadrunners going along the highway, beep beep.

Contemplative lifestyle.  It is what you do.  It is having time for prayer or meditation or devotions, saying grace, chanting, or many other things that support communion with What - probably having specific times for these things.  But it is also about being attentive to your life moment by moment.  Am I living it with openness to the moment, actually living it, or am I just waiting out the moment's activity, closing out that other person. 

Being attentive and engaged can be so hard at work.  In an industrial economy with work specialized, you can end up doing a boring job hour after hour.  My own worst experience with this was not my first job at a soda fountain, but grading papers for composition classes.  When I made sodas or edited manuscripts (one of my last jobs) failure didn't matter so much.  And a soda is made a certain way, attentiveness is required only for a few moments.  But an essay - it was awful to have to assign grades in the first place.  And then, the grade could mean so much! or the paper could have been purchased.  Assigning grades, writing something that in theory could help the student, it was taxing work and seemed to have almost nothing to do with teaching love and attentiveness to the language.

Right now I am just sitting dully through the day.  Sunday night Tom showed me an ominous-looking mole on the side of his face, which has changed.  Irregular edges, odd color.  My brother died of malignant melanoma.  Right away I knew that I was doing okay bearing the suspense of the moment - Will my living donor pass all the tests?  Will this go through, will the graft, as they refer to a new kidney, take, how will my convalescence go?  I was okay, like a waitress with a big tray and a lot balanced on it, but then someone added a big plate  to the load.

My response has been beyond my own control.  I just shut down.  I don't want to meditate, take a walk when the sun is out, put a load in the washer, plan dinner.  Nothing.    I can escape into my addictive substance - fiction.  A little cruising the web, but not much interest in things I am usually very interested in.  It is an odd reaction in a way, mechanical, akin to shock.  It reminds me of those squirrel-proof bird feeders that have a door that drops down to shut off the feed ports when a squirrel's weight lands on the feeder. 

Tom was able to get an appointment with a dermatologist tomorrow morning.  We will know something then, or at least feel it is in the hands of an expert.  Meanwhile, to be in shock is also to be somewhere in a strange, empty land.  It is possible to experience that.

I did feel rather inspired to look at the pansies that sit in our tiny Zen garden.  Obedient as nuns, they have all turned to face the morning sun, so from the kitchen we see  their backs, like little green stars. 


  1. One of the things I found interesting after our discussion about the year long retreat at the 'center' was that she no longer meditates. And she's so opposed to blogging though she recently took a class on blogging, a full weekend. (someone's making easy money!). I told her if she had blogged that year while at the center for action and contemplation, she really would have a book almost prepared. Still not quite a believer.

    Never noticed the stars on the back of the pansies until you pointed them out. Thanks for that.

  2. Hey Dalai Grandma,

    It's been awhile, have of the while was dark, while the other half was bright. I sat in a Zazen-a-thon yesterday. One person bought one my minutes of merit- but I have 199 minutes in the bank of merit, but I'm taking them out and sending them your way!

    Kanzeon, all through the day, Kanzeon all though the night- Hope you feel better.