In my twenties and thirties I was part of a local Zen Buddhist center.
I say “part” because I wasn’t a consistent practitioner---I was never one for organized groups. But nevertheless I was very much drawn to the dim, candlelit mornings held in silence, and the light incense of Sandalwood and Pine; the creak of bare feet on a worn and wooden floor, and the unique sense of “togetherness” that sharing meditation with other human beings can render.
There is a Zen saying,"Before Enlightenment chop wood carry water;
after Enlightenment, chop wood carry water."
When I first found Zen Buddhism, I was twenty-one, and few “hard knocks” had happened to me.
I appeared each morning at 3:50 a.m., fresh-faced, dressed in appropriately dark and comfortable clothes. I smiled sweetly and observed silence and moved with a conscious and quiet grace. I raked and cleaned and watered and sat and stood and bowed and chanted and even practiced meditation at home when not at the Zen center.
Inspired by the emphasis on Compassion in the teachings of Buddhism, I became a vegan, entered massage school, and took up gentle pastimes that fed my soul.
However, time passed, and more Life happened, and soon I began to digress. I massaged my aching kneecaps whenever my teachers weren’t looking. I eased ever-so-slightly to the right or left of my meditation cushion to give my bum a break, daring my shadow on the wall directly in front of me to give me away. I skipped the Wednesday night Dharma talk and instead went out with friends and drank wine late into the summer nights. Stress and dramas spun me not toward the skills I had hoped to acquire--nor toward my own heart--but instead, toward everything “unskillful” and drama-producing. My dear Zen teacher would observe me coming and going over the years, sometimes smile warmly--and sometimes just shake her head. Once, she told me I was like a helium balloon to which she wished she could tie a small rock, so that I wouldn’t keep floating away.
But she also had this to say one evening when I had returned for the umpteenth time in my early 30’s to begin practice again at the Zen Center, my face full of shame, my eyes constantly brimmed with tears, having experienced a divorce after 9 years of marriage, the passing of my beloved dog, three more romantic relationships and breakups, and a first healthy dark night of the soul:
“This is good,” she said. “You’re not as shiny now.” She held my face in her hands and we looked into each other’s eyes and hot tears streamed down my cheeks. “Now you can relate to others, and they can relate to you. Now the wisdom born of suffering is not wasted. Now the wisdom of Compassion is not just a precept on the pages.”
And she was right.
In retrospect, as hard as that decade was, I wouldn’t trade it for who I was being fashioned into--or, in truth--who I was remembering I had always been. "I saw the angel in the marble, and carved until I set him free," said Michelangelo...
Every Beautiful Silk
I imagined that God had finally decided that
was simply not elegant enough;
had become too ragged,
from so many bouts
of believing in
God reminded me again
that every beautiful silk
in the cocoon,
Stars & Bone is prose paired with poetry, offering us gentle and healing reminders that we came here to experience and expand as spiritual beings having a (very) human experience. We are Heaven and Earth. We are Stars & Bone...
*Check Back for Audio & Book Release Date*