Yesterday, I received a beautiful card with a nice note from the 90-plus-year-old woman who for years has been the backbone of the local peace picket. She said she missed my presence on the Saturday morning vigils and hoped I would feel better. Her words made me think I should get my ass in gear and return to the picket line.
The card made my mind skitter back to previous times on the line -- a nice way to spend an hour. And for some reason my mind settled on a meeting I had had with a woman who runs a local Zen center. She approached me one morning together with a friend. She said she had seen my robes (passers-by pay attention to guys in dresses so I figure peace is worth getting dressed up for) and was curious about what lineage, what teachers, what Zen environment I had come out of.
I told her what I could and her eyes took on a pedagogic glow ... she was a Zen teacher and all situations deserved to be treated as part of Zen training. Our meeting, her tone and eyes said, was a ... wait for it! ... Zen event -- a time for her to tell me how meaningful lineage and teachings and our meeting were. It had a deeper meaning, a more impressive importance, than was obvious on the surface. Deeeep meaning!
Of course she was right, in one sense, but she was full of shit in a more profound way. Arm-twisting daily life is not the purpose of spiritual practice. The old teacher Ummon summed things up nicely when he said, "When you can't say it, it's there. When you don't say it, it's missing."
Naturally Zen students work pretty hard and encourage each other in a variety of ways. They make all sorts of mistakes before they can settle down and just ... well ... enjoy things. And one of those mistakes is to lock their doors too tight as they try to penetrate or fend off a universe full of suffering, confusion and uncertainty. Sweat and strain and ... I think it was John Lennon who coined the phrase, "Life is what was happening while you were busy making other plans."
Yes, discipline and practice can be fierce and fiery, but let's not lock the doors too tight.