Wednesday, October 30, 2013

What is the essence of Zen?

Just now I was sitting at the kitchen table taking a break and reading - I hope I never have to live without a kitchen table and real paper books - and Tashi came up, which she is allowed to do when there's no food on the table. A boundary she likes to test, as she likes to come up when we're doing weekly meds and try to claim the box.

I was done reading and about to go downstairs and put some clothes in the dryer.  When I closed the book, Tashi strolled over and looked at me, and I thought, What does the little cat want? Sometimes something scares her and she needs a good cuddle, and comes over, looks in my eyes, then reaches up to put a paw on my shoulder.  I gather her in.  A few minutes on a shoulder - she's so soft, almost a ragdoll - and then I can settle her on my heart.  When my arms get tired or my back starts to hurt,                                                                     I persuade her down onto my lap.

So I waited to see what she did.  She walked over on her little cat feet and stretched down to put one foot on my thigh, then launched to the ground and off to whatever she had in mind.  I thought, Sometimes you're a mom, sometimes you're a ladder.  Whatever the little cat needs. Within reason.

It's the principle of serving. The Bodhissatva of Compassion is often depicted with many, many arms, and in each hand something useful.  A friend who is the active mother of two little ones recently named off the things she keeps handy:  tissues, cellphone, bandaid, juice box . . . on it goes.  Quan Yin in t-shirt and jeans.

Kanzeon - her name in my tradition - is the compassionate one who hears the cries of the world. In my everyday life it's more like being open to the whispers, receiving so you know what to offer the little cat or your daughter or yourself.  It's right there, I think.  Not that it's simple.

Once a friend and I were walking quietly after lunch through a park.  Jean Marie, who has a degree in horticulture, indicated a tall old pine I'd noticed was somewhat yellowed.  "That needs iron," she said.  She saw the condition and knew what the tree lacked.  It takes noticing.  Mere knowledge is easy to come by these days - I wouldn't be surprised you could snap a picture of the tree, send it to some site, and they'd tell you what kind of tree it is, and what it needs. Strolling quietly and noticing the tree - that takes practice.

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