Friday, January 28, 2011

Give Your Cow a Large Pasture

I have worked at the same job for the past nine years, and my boss has watched me along my Zen journey, from the initial steps, eventually to choosing Tony Patchell as my teacher, up through lay ordination this past August, and now through this period of loss as our sanghas deal with the death of Darlene.

She is a Presbyterian. Our other officemate is Catholic. One day, in the midst of a casual discussion about dealing with an interpersonal issue, my boss surprised me by saying, "You know, you are the most spiritual person I know." I was dumbfounded. All my life, I had felt I was completely lacking in the spirituality department. When I asked what she meant, she said she didn't know anyone else who incorporated a spiritual practice into their daily life as much as I did. This is what she had determined from hearing me speak about sesshins, sewing practice, meditating, and dharma discussions, all as they came up in the normal course of conversation in our very small office.

That was about six months ago. In early January, my boss was going through a lot of personal family stress. She came to me and said, "I think I need to start meditating. Can you tell me how?"

I explained in very basic terms the fundamentals of zazen, such as posture, breathing, and hand position. I also removed possible hurdles immediately: I told her she could sit in a chair and I said ten minutes at a time was fine to start off. She asked, "Am I supposed to make my mind blank?" I laughed and said, "Oh, no! You'll never make it blank. Just try not to get attached to anything that comes up. When a thought arises, look at it, and let it go."

The next week at Russian River Zendo, someone brought up that problem of "busy mind" during zazen. Fellow practitioner Dick Bates had a wonderful analogy to demonstrate how crucial "busy mind" is. He said in biology, most mutations are useless, not helpful or beneficial in any way to the creature they occur in. But, if all mutations were to cease, the organism would be deprived of those rare times when a profound, wonderful change occurs. Dick said in the same way, most of the stuff floating through our minds is pure rubbish. But nestled inside of those racing thoughts are the kernels of creativity. If we could, as we sometimes wish, completely control our thoughts, nothing new would ever be born again.

So, to new practitioners like my boss, the best advice is that of Suzuki-roshi, when he said to view your mind as a cow. Then give your cow a large pasture, and watch it.

(By the way - actually being inside of a very active spiritual community, I most humbly decline the title of "most spiritual" - but it was a pleasant moment hearing someone else could see that part of me I had been seeking for so long.)

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