Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Morning Coffee With Grandma: What is Zen?

7:00 Quietly awakened by morning light.  Roll over, sigh happily - nothing scheduled this morning. close eyes.
8:20  Wake up again. (In Zen this is called gradual awakening.  I've always believed in it.)
8:45  Pulling the compression sleeve on my lymphedemic arm, I accidentally sock my jaw.
9:00  Take vitals. I am alive. I thought so.
9:05  Get on Vine of Obstacles, read Forum, answer another student with a post that includes one of the few things I know for sure - you have to have a semi run into your house before you will start to meditate.  Then, if you're a woman, it's going to take twice the effort, because you've been trained to take care of everyone else, and don't get above yourself.  I don't have to go into a tirade about how Oprah and the other marketers make a lot of money by convincing you that what you need is a $100 haircut and a pedicure.  Most of us eventually figure out that that doesn't work.  Also, an old saying in feminism is "To get anywhere a woman has to be twice as good as a man.  Fortunately, that's not hard."
Actually, on one of my early Zen retreats I was walking down the residence hall when I saw that someone else had left her door open.  There, neatly laid out on her dresser, were four pairs of earrings. I thought, being new to all this, "Are these people Zen?"  Some of the women wore full makeup every day, too.  It turned out that -
(a)  Most were Catholic, drawn to this retreat because it was at Grailville and was led by a Jesuit Priest/Zen Master.  And -
(b)  Zen is not about what you wear.
(c)  Not everyone gets that.  When I went to a "real" Zen retreat, the other students all wore black and did NOT wear earrings or makeup or ever look up at the flowering trees.  Was that Zen? Now I was confused.
9:30  Done with coffee.  Time to put the post-it sign on my study door and do my practice.  Not that sitting down to meditate is the practice.  The practice is . . . umm . . .Well, sit down, shut up, and pay attention is fundamental.  But the "pay attention" part is supposed to keep going.  Pay attention all day long, every moment, every step.  That's the practice, as I understand it now.
In case you didn't recognize her above, here's a more usual view of the beautiful Pema Chodron, who got liberated and then got liberated.
One more thing:  I'm thinking I ought to call this blog The Dally Grandma.  Any opinions?


  1. Love the gradual awakening joke! And are these people Zen?

    I'm often wondering that myself, and then having to let go of the wondering. Because hell if I can figure it out.

    1. I am working with Dosho Port now on his new internet thing, as I mentioned. He is a very down-home guy, a joker who loves his dog but trained the hard way, with Katagiri. He is helping me see the validity of my belief in vowing to be kind, in trying to be awake in my life. He started this because he saw there are a lot of us out here where there are no teachers. (I don't know if other people are hooked up with other teachers as well.)

      What I've come to think is that it's natural for people to come to any practice hoping it will help us perfect our selves. I know I did. Oh, wrong. I just could not go that sit-up-all-night ostentatiously in the meditation hall while the rest of you poor suckers sleep. And I could not abide the cold lack of welcome in local Zen circles to newcomers. I do see how retreat and endurance and exhaustion and certainly working with a Teacher are very important. But I always felt puzzled by ardent Zenners whose total focus was on form and meditation, because the first thing I ever read about Buddhism told me it was about ah, following the Eight-fold Path....
      Good to hear from you. Someone gets my joke!