Friday, May 20, 2011

heaven and hell

When I was a 19-year-old and working at a lumbering camp in Oregon, I heard that the winters in that part of the world consisted largely of rain, fog, drizzle and grey. I also heard that the population had one of the highest per capita rates of alcoholism in the country... a little imaginary sunshine in a sodden life, perhaps.

Here, it has been raining for five days straight -- maybe longer. Today is no different. The moist infinities of a life without shadows seems to add to the discombobulation implied by having the kitchen spiffed up a little. The kitchen is one of the hubs of the household, a fact that is neglected when there are no workmen in the space, when the stuff stored in the kitchen isn't stored higglety-pigglety in other parts of the house, and when the dust from sanded joint compound doesn't seep and creep and insist on dusting everything in a fine white grit.

I have heard other Zen Buddhist students say -- and perhaps I have said it myself -- that the first three days of sesshin or Zen retreat are a ball-busting time. All the bright intentions that preceded the retreat run headlong into the reality of sitting still and silent for eight or nine or ten or more hours a day. Whatever notions there were that "I can do this" devolve into a sometimes yowling recognition that "I can't do this!" or "This is insane!"

Spiff up the kitchen ... won't that look nice? Clarify my life ... won't that look nice? What a good thought, a good hope, a good belief. And then ... and then ... get me the fuck out of here!!! I created this hell I was more than willing to conceive of as some haloed heaven. The circumstances I swathed in a bright new light become a hangman's noose and one of the hardest parts of it all is the fact that I have no one to blame but myself. Of course I will be happy later, but I want to be happy NOW.

The rain doesn't mind and the kitchen doesn't mind and the zendo doesn't mind, but I mind.

Minding is one of the things I do best.

The only problem is, what I do best is not really good enough ... except, of course, when it is.

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