At lunch I was trying to finish one bite before loading my fork with the next bite, when I realized I was trying. As soon as I smiled at that (I am trying to stop trying so hard) I knew where it came from. My first retreat. It was led by a student I’ll call Andrew who was in love with the forms and rituals of the Japanese tradition. He terrified us with rules.
I can hear him now, saying “Keep your eyes on your own plate. Don’t look around to see how others are doing.” I was failing there today, looking at this person and that, catching my mind making little judgements like All that jewelry on retreat, or Seems like she’s on some strange diet. She’s a fire person, Irish blue eyes. Catching my mind always thinking.
As for the food, I was enjoying the seitan with pineapple and rice, emerald-green broccoli, fresh young salad, a piece of cake with lots of icing. But I was eating my peculiar way, not the slow. careful way, finishing each bite before spearing the next one. Enjoying the food. Wondering how we can be expected to spear rice. No chopsticks here, nor is Andrew, and neither is my father, who always found something wrong with me (“You’re dead,” I tell his ghost, “so go away.”) Just eating and not reading, an effort in itself. I must say, the problem is not with Zen - it is with me. I am human.
In Japanese work practice is called samu. I signed up to break garlic bulbs into cloves for planting. They grow a lot of garlic at Grailville. Found my way to a spot at the crowded picnic table next to a woman who was very fast end efficient. Right away I was aware of my hands, which have become clumsy with invisible arthritris. I am also really slow to figure things out since my kidney function dropped below 10%. But to look at me, you wouldn’t know these things.
The woman picked out a tool for me, so I got defensive, mindfully. I hate it when people tell me what to do, doesn’t everyone? Judging from my experience with housekeepers and painters, etc, yes, everyone thinks they know how to do some dumb thing like break up garlic. Moreover, I love to figure out new things, which I did, and became more proficient.
She never did correct me, but I was relieved when she left. This freed me up to really enjoy the beautiful garlic, and begin collecting garlic bits for a photograph, maybe to draw. It’s me, I noticed mindfully, turning everything into art, always making something. An insight, of sorts.