The Buddha, The Dharma, The Sangha

"Spiritual powers and their wondrous functioning--hauling water and carrying firewood." --Layman Pang, upon his realization

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Set It Up, Stand Back, (Keep Breathing)

When I first received the precepts and began my studies for Buddhist Chaplaincy, I had the distinct impression that I had been wound up like a child's toy with a little metal key.
This image would come to me often, as I was presented with a "problem" or a "moment" where it was expected that I would know how to respond as a Priest.
Hmmmm, I should say, Self-Expected, because there was certainly no one around me with a clip board and check list--yup, she's not reacting out of fear, uh-hu, calm demeanor, oh nice, a gentle touch on the arm and a sincere smile.
Or, Ooops, no eye contact, and that little flicker of doubt in the eyes? What's that all about? Isn't she being trained? Hasn't she been wound up with that little key? Wait a minute, she's going home and crawling into bed and pulling up the covers!

I know, it's funny.
But my teacher heard this from me in several variations, (still does), and true to his nature, just kept turning me around somehow, so that every perspective was about radical acceptance and compassion for all beings, including this faltering being. Especially for this faltering being!

At one point, wringing my hands, my body tensed like a tightly wound spring, I asked my teacher exactly what a Shuso is/does/acts like/aims for. I mean, EXACTLY.

We were in his office, and I could see that he was going to begin with words, in fact he opened his mouth to speak, and then thought better of it.
He turned to his desk, located his day-by-day calendar, tore the page off and just handed it to me.

"Do the work, and then stand back."

I've probably paraphrased here, and I don't remember to which enlightened zen master the phrase can be attributed, but of course it shut me right up.
Honestly, it was more like a big, "DUH!"
And my teacher just smiled.
I know I took that calendar page home and looked at it every day for a long time, and then I put it into one of my notebooks, where I suppose I could still find it.

And then I began to relax, despite myself.

I relaxed into having no idea what would be "expected" of me. I relaxed into trusting that I would and could, at any given moment, know how to be compassionate and wise.
Or Not!
I found wave after wave of equanimity that shifted imperceptibly with each swell, a reserve we each have access to when we relax expectation and perfection, and simply bring awareness to the moment at hand.
And the beauty is that there is always a moment at hand, until we stop breathing.

This is a practice for me.
I'm not the type of person who "gets it" and then "has it."
I need to practice over and over again with the open heart of compassion, as I once watched my children practice learning how to speak, how to move, how to interact.
Every baby is an endlessly fascinating video of sound, movement and practice!
And no one ever looks at a baby learning to crawl and says, "You dumbbell, haven't you figured that out yet?!?"
A good thing for me to remember.

This practice has infinite layers of subtlety and upaya, enough to keep me busy for many, many lifetimes!

But sometimes a lifetime is just the blink of an eye, of doing the work and then standing back, and then beginning again. Maybe just taking a breathe.
And that clipboard with the check list? I hurled it into space, and it hasn't fallen to Earth yet.
I think it joined all the others, all those thrown away by my ancestors, which now appear as stars.

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