Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Nothing extra

Tashi contemplating tea
Last night watched the last episode of House, which ended well, he and Wilson on motorcycles going through a digitally-bright-green landscape....maybe this is the end of an 8-year episode in my life, too.

Perhaps unrelated, I decided I need to turn back to Zen, to the simple bareness.  I read some in Branching Streams Flow in the Darkness, and was struck by something Suzuki said in answering a question, Why do we shave our heads?

“We should not have anything that is not necessary.”

A mind like mine begins to parse “necessary.”  Looking it up doesn’t illuminate it.  But I remembered the sentence somewhat differently, like this -

“We should not have anything extra.”

So I began to think about how bare and simple life is on retreat:
There is my little room (no socializing, no talking, no decorating or art). 
There is my bed, that I sleep well.  Thought, must order new sheets today.
There is my food.
And water.
My body, whatever else it needs, taking a shower, taking medications, moving it, sitting in meditation. My mind needs that, too.  Body-mind.
There are clothes that are comfortable and protective and not distracting and just enough.
    (whoa, wait...earrings?  I suppose we shouldn’t stand out so much)
    (How do fun and making art and personal-clothing-art fit into that?)
So I thought, retreat strips away the unnecessary so you can be with the very simplest thing, your breathing. Being awake or asleep.  Sitting or walking. Wearing shoes, taking them off at the door. What a relief.

When you think about “nothing extra” you think about your things  (which are an ominous gray area) - and the visual clutter of your house.  Those of us who have houses and things.  I left that out -

There is your shelter.

Its actual purpose is - shelter from the elements, and safety.  Beyond those walls and doors and HVAC systems, roof, gutters, and what you sit on and cook on, beyond that everything is extra.  And 90% of what is in my kitchen goes unused most or all of the time (the Bundt cake pan).  It is not necessary, is it?

And how simple life was when all you had was a typewriter.  Oh, go back before that - van Gogh would pick reeds, sharpen them into pens, and draw with them.

If you had a camera when I was young, it was film and it took a limited number of pictures per roll, and that cost money and took time to get developed.  Now you are plagued by pictures, they are another something-extra problem in your life, how to organize them.  This is making me smile and chuckle at the ridiculousness of it all.

And let us not forget, as Suzuki once pointed out, there is the broom with which you sweep.  It should be stored upside down, so the bristles don’t wear down so fast.

And there is the cat who lives with you, her litterbox, her food, her measured probiotic, her need to play, her anxiety when you leave.  What a wonderful complication love is in your life.


  1. What a wonderful complication indeed!

    I've enjoyed reading your posts for some time -- many thanks.

  2. Dear Dalai Grandma,

    We ask this question a lot in Cloud Hall. This necessary business balks at action; I need hair, I don't need hair. If I cut the hair, it seems an unnecessary gesture. If I let it grow, seems like it needs to be cut.

    I ask Dogen's question: What is it that thus comes? Why do I think this monastic life is different then the life we left behind? I'm seeing it's not if I don't ask the question, moment to moment. Of course, not really choosing what is necessary seems to be working, too. We're called from the farm to the dining room. Room 6 is only 15 ft wide, about 10ft deep. But then, the snack area has unlimited peanut butter. And sometimes, only 15 minutes after dinner has started, the food runs out.

    Cute cat!

    1. Hair, a problem any way you look at it. Being human, rather, animal, in a body. This led me to reread "The Heavy Bear That Goes With Me." Schwartz was an alcoholic+, I gather, and I find the poem very sadly hateful of our embodied self. I'm trying to think of an antidote poem. So much poetry exalting nature, so little appreciating ourselves and these bodies, which are all we have to work with. So here - http://wonderingminstrels.blogspot.com/2005/09/eyes-czeslaw-milosz.html