I was talking with Tom on the peace picket line yesterday. Tom is a 76-year-old Korean War vet who has not yet found an adequate defense against the nightmares and memories that wake him in the night. Dreams are so naked, so undefended, so raking and wracking in their power.
Because Tom had been around several Buddhist blocks in his life, we could talk about names and people and Zen centers we knew in common. Tom interspersed his conversation with references to the interconnectedness of all things and similar truths that, when issuing from the lips, are often little more than encouraging dreams...something to be naked with and yet, with luck, defended and unthreatened.
There are things in people's lives that are so piercing, so powerful, so grinding. Who wouldn't need some staff, some aid, some purchase point?
Again and again, lately, I come back to the story of Gautama Buddha, who extended a closed fist to a weeping child, pretending there was gold within. The child, entranced by the thought of gold, stops crying. And when the fist is opened ... well, it is empty. But there is no jumping to the empty fist before the charade is played: Tom has searing nightmares and they are no joke or philosophical talking points.
And so I said to Tom what I honestly feel -- that it is important to assist people with their support systems ... even going so far as talking about the interconnectedness of all things, if necessary. My feeling was that in meditation, a good staff, a good support, a good bit of gold was breath-counting ... counting the exhalations from one to ten and beginning again. It may be annoyingly simplistic to the nightmare-filled mind, but it has a concrete feel to it, focused and supportive and as strong as Gautama's fist. Just take the time to sit straight and still and count the exhalations, over and over again.
Bit by bit the nakedness comes home and nightmares lose their power. Bit by bit the interconnectedness of all things is not so important ... it's just true and the need to turn it into a staff or a bit of gold recedes.
Things are OK.
And it's enough.