Tuesday, February 26, 2013

evaporating sense of loss

A small rivulet of visceral sadness slid down my mind's cheek yesterday when I read that Harvey Daiho Hilbert's Clear Mind Zen Temple in New Mexico would close.
It is with regret and deep sorrow that I announce the closing of the Clear Mind Zen Temple effective the third week of April after Hannamatsuri Sesshin.
I know precisely nothing about the temple or its visitors. I don't know Harvey. And if the truth be told, I have no particular longing or reason to get to know any of them. Hanging out with dedicated Buddhists makes me recoil with the same please-don't-make-me-do-that skepticism I seem to have for Red Sox fans or Democrats ... OK, I lean that way, but being reminded of it is tedious and itchy and somehow inaccurate.

But I could not deny the sadness, the sense that, with the closing of Clear Mind zendo, I felt a loss. I would miss them ... even if I wouldn't miss them at all... and was flummoxed by a simultaneously assured and vaporous understanding of what would go missing.

What would I miss? Well, since "missing" is all about me, of course I would miss me, but I wasn't in the mood to accept that truth and I allowed my mind to ramble. Why was I sad?

My mind immediately rejected the Buddhist caterwauling about the "preciousness" of the sangha or the wiles of "karma," both of which can be made a part of the institutional Buddhist p.r. I could recognize that some sort of tale needed to be told in spiritual endeavor and that there would always be someone to tell it in terms of "preciousness" or "karma" or "authenticity," but the sincerity others may feel when issuing such tales is not a sincerity I can or am willing to embrace. Sure, "Go Red Sox!" or "Vote Democrat!" ... but not in my backyard, s'il vous plaƮt.

When it comes to tale-telling, Christians, Jews, Muslims and others are lucky -- they're going someplace else; they're going to heaven. Tales fall apart without someplace else to go ... so, I think Christians, Jews, Muslims and others are lucky when it comes to tale-telling.

Practicing Zen Buddhists, by contrast, are fucked. While it is true that Zen has a vast number of tales and add-on's and ethereal doo-dads and preciousness and karma and whatever all else ... still, when a student sits down on a cushion, all the tales go out the window. They evaporate. Sure, there can be vast swaths of time devoted to imagining when seated on a cushion, but the fact is that once anyone sits down in this way ... well practicing Zen Buddhists are fucked. It's like trying to be in love while sneezing ... it can't be done. Zen Buddhists aren't going anywhere else.

And this thought may be close to what made me feel sad about the zendo closing and sangha dissolution. At the risk of sounding "Buddhist," every moment evaporates ... honest injun, check it out. Every moment is gone even as every moment is born. Evaporation isn't a noun, it's a verb ... and you don't have to be "Buddhist" -- Zen or otherwise -- to sense or perhaps recognize this. It is a part of what makes life feel edgy and uncertain and never quite complete ... evaporation.

A created place or situation in which human beings are given leave or encouraged to address their own evaporation -- their own birth and death -- head-on is a good thing in my mind. A kindness that can seem, in the activity, pretty damned unkind: I don't want to evaporate ... but I evaporate anyway ... and coming to terms with this actual-factuality is a real opportunity to settle the matter of peace and happiness.

In the long ago, walking home after a sesshin, or Zen retreat, at which I had cussed and laughed and wept and pleaded and found moments of unalloyed joy, sometimes I would wonder what it was that had happened in the last few days, those days sitting silent on a cushion. What the fuck was that all about? Whatever it was, I could never pin it down. I knew it had been worth the price of admission, but what, precisely, had been gained by paying that price I could never say. Whatever it was seemed to be missing ... and yet how could it be missing since I was walking home after sesshin? It seemed that I was missing what could not go missing ... talk about weird shit.

A place in which to do what cannot NOT be done in the first place. Evaporate ... the verb, not the noun.

In a wide and utterly inauthentic sense, I feel a small rivulet of sadness drifting down my mind's cheek. Clear Mind zendo will be no more. Is it a "blessing" that is lost? Screw that ... blessings are just curses in disguise.

Bit by bit and inch by inch, I draw closer to my small sadness.

I will miss Clear Mind zendo when it's gone.
I will miss the opportunity that invites the embrace of what cannot be embraced: Evaporation.
Yes, I will miss me when I'm gone.

But that's my problem.

I wouldn't wish it on anyone else.


  1. I was sorry to read the postscript, with its bitterness and regret. It's bad enough that something is coming to an end, but he is also dealing with the realization that the sangha wasn't what he hoped it would be.

  2. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lFqQ0t9Gefc

  3. Patricia -- That was wonderful! Thanks.

  4. Jordan ... I know what you mean about "religious" communities: They kind of scare me too ...

    And when I look at the evidence, I think there's good reason to be scared.

  5. The closing of a Zendo is sad, yet in doing so many opportunities to discover true Zen emerge. True Zen, IMHO, is not life in a Zendo, but life on the streets, the everyday practice of opening one's mind and heart to what is. May we each be a blessing in the universe.