Friday, November 4, 2011

Leaving Zen Mountain

I was just looking over a recent post about goals and time management--- I titled it "A useless post" with some irony, because it basically discouraged endeavor---though that is a very useful counterpoint to The American Way of Striving.  But I do try, as I come out of the hardest year of my life and awaken to the 10,000 things that need done around here.

First, a progress report.  Some scarves handled, though there is more to be done, and you can't see the dresser top yet.  Got the kitchen cleaned, though it must have made me uncomfortable, because I immediately strewed things all over the counters again. (A happy marriage is one in which you basically agree on the level of housekeeping.)  We became greener by mixing our own general cleaning spray from white vinegar and a few drops of dish detergent - saved a lot of money, reused the spray bottle, which would probably last seventy millenia in the Pacific Garbage Patch.  And I am using my right hand more all the time.  Today I was able to put a compression sleeve on, and thank God I didn't get cellulitis in this whole thing.  Bladder infection conquered, though I will spare you the descriptive details. Even had a couple of good nights' sleep.

Voted yesterday---we have "early" voting in Ohio; like absentee voting, but in person.  I tell you, I feel good when I vote.  It's a mess, our government, but it's our mess.  Don't think I didn't think about the Arab Spring, and all the people in this world who will lay down their lives for a chance to have a say in their government.

Seems my mind is available now for higher things.  And we went to the Unitarian church we belong to last night for a presentation by a Sufi teacher and scholar, Neil Douglas-Klotz.  This was my introduction to this mystical element in Islam, unless you count the movie Meetings with Remarkable Men, a great documentary which you can watch free here.  (This is a slow-moving film, but toward the end there is a section of Gurdjieff Dancers that is breath-taking.)  I also know one of his senior students, Elizabeth Reed, a well-known psychotherapist and spiritual leader here in Columbus.

Neil's approach is that of a scholar, a linguist, opening out the meaning of Jesus' words as they would have been spoken in Aramaic.  Awesome.  He is also a teacher and practitioner, and led us in two Aramaic chants; they call these "body prayers."  I was just seeing the end of my longtime Zen path, a sense that it had become dry for me - and more disappointment in practitioners and teachers.  I was aware of the empty space this was leaving, but I know that when something leaves your life, something else will come in out of the darkness, and I was waiting.  Here it was.

For years now the machismo of the Japanese tradition has bothered me.  Example: recently we watched a film on Dogen, an important Zen mystic and teacher.  It showed the monks meditating as Dogen died.  When he did die, seated upright among them, one wailed "Master!" and the leader shouted "Continue!" meaning shut up, swallow that grief, meditate.  Can't go there, folks. Do not see grief as an illusion or grasping.  Can't stand it when people are hit by the teacher's big stick. Can't go with meditating 14 hours a day, welcoming pain, keeping my eyes on the ground when the cherry trees are in bloom. I think it's wrong.

It's taken me a while to catch up to myself on this.  It's been a couple of years, 4, 5? since my last poetry chapbook was published, Leaving Zen Mountain.  The title poem had been inspired by a visit to a very formal (as in form-is-all) Zen center and monastery, where I was taken aback by the levels of heirarchy expressed in robes, and the cold and unwelcoming approach to visitors.  So as usual, I'm the last one to read my own story.


  1. Well, you just have to strike out and create your own zen path, no? Zen from leading and pioneering, not following and adhering.

  2. Yes. And I always thought that was the idea.