"Beauty confronts us with the requirement that we place ourselves among...the redeemers, the leaders in the protection of life. Once you have seen the bush on fire, you are not going to get out of the assignment unless you close your eyes to the beauty.... [You] either have to close your eyes or go back to Egypt and set the people free." - Rev. Dr. Rebecca Parker, "Rising to the Challenge of Our Times"

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Ripley Roshi

(Shown here in one variation of her "reclining Buddha" pose.)

I've generally preferred sitting at hours when Ripley is asleep in her house, but Day 2 of the sitting experiment occurred on a "furlough Friday" and I had an early morning class at the gym, so I ended up sitting plumb in the middle of the day. Ripley is an avid power-napper throughout the day, but when the sun is up she's likely at any moment to spring wide awake ready to protect the herds from invading Normans, or the Hound of the Baskervilles, or Luftwaffe, or the UPS guy.

Frankly my head was a mess most of last week. Buzzing like a hive of worker bees about to go on strike. Making up imaginary versions of real people and rehearsing endless arguments with them, and arguing about arguments. This happens to me, to some degree, about once a month. This last lunar revolution, though...holy hormones batman (so THAT'S why sitting on Monday was fun, and sitting on Thursday, not so much.) 

As I tried to sit on Friday, the head dialogues sometimes degenerated into random word generation, and from there into a sort of word mush - like the noise of a lot of people talking mostly unintelligibly in another room.

It's easy to get quite put out with oneself, and ones noisy, messy, annoying head, under these circumstances. And Ripley seemed to think it was noisy too, because every thirty seconds she had to stand at attention and bark, at the door, at me, at the cat, a butterfly flapping its wings in Ecuador...whatever. I thought, ah Ripley, I wish she'd stop barking, but it's what she does. I'd say 'Tssst!' to her and she would stop for a minute, and I would go back to obsessing about how annoying the inside of my head was. Then she grabbed one of her toys, came over to where I was sitting , and started pushing it at me - right in the gut, since I was sitting on the floor. Nudge. Look for reaction. Nudge. Look for reaction. Nudge. This struck me as quite funny all of a sudden. I took the toy from her and scratched her head and rubbed her velvety ears. She stretched herself out against my knees and laid down. Reclining Buddha (at least the smile, if not quite the same arrangement of limbs).

It's easy to muster lovingkindness for my barking dog, she's so cute and furry. Maybe I could have a little more compassion for my barking head. Ripley Roshi also gave me a koan to work with - "how much IS that doggie in the window, arf arf?"

Thursday, September 23, 2010

"Well the first days are the hardest days, don't you worry any more...."

I love the song "Uncle John's Band," especially after years of singing it in harmony with my sisters and friends. But the opening admonitions are a puzzle. The next line seems intended as an explanation of the first: "...'cause when life looks like easy street there is danger at your door."

So the message here is that the way things appear, and the way they are, are most probably not the same; i.e., don't worry about apparent difficulty, and don't assume that easy street, though perhaps well-lit, is in a safe neighborhood.

One other question before laying the Dead to rest - so the first days are the hardest days, but does it work the other way? Are the hardest days the first days? First days of something we weren't aware of having begun?

Okay. The whole reason I got on the "first day" subject and went off into a song lyric tangent, as is my wont, is that last Monday I wrote my name on a sign-up sheet saying that I was going to "sit" (meaning practice zazen) for 100 hours in 100 days. And (this) morning and the evening (will be) the first day, and it was hard. If I had shown up as I did last Monday at the local Sangha after months of not showing up, and had a "sitting" experience then like the one this morning, I would have thought "okay, I've completely forgotten how to sit and should warm up gradually before I do anything crazy and pull a brain muscle." But no. It was all serene and lovely and I had such nice realizations about the relationship between breathing and metta. So when the group discussed a plan to commit to sit 100 hours in 100 days, I was all, like, sure dude, why not?

Actually, I was not "all like" that. The 100-hour commitment seemed like one of those things that part of you knows will be so helpful and good for you to do, but that, given a chance, your mind will talk you out of, because it is a threat to your mind's sense of immense self-importance and authority. So I listened to other people talk about how they felt about the idea of sitting so much and tried not to think about how I felt or didn't feel about it. For one thing, trying to do anything worthwhile on a consistent basis because I feel like it has never worked out very well. But sitting happened to 'feel' very worthwhile and good that night, so I drove the car off the lot, and this morning, Day 1, which coincidentally is three days after I metaphorically bought this vehicle, it started making all these funny noises.

So I'll be sitting with that. The first days are the hardest days. Don't worry. It's not what it looks like.