Wednesday, February 20, 2013

the generosity of the skunk

Besides the dog-walkers, stroller-pushers and street lamps that schedule my neighborhood, lately, just after sundown, there has been a passing skunk (never seen) whose scent wafts up onto the porch where I sometimes sit.

By the pungency of the smell, I can tell that s/he has passed close by. And it's not as if some event has caused a loosing of protective spray: This is just the ordinary, walk-about, everyday being of a skunk.

My understanding is that once their smell function is removed, skunks make very good and loving pets. I have no desire to test this statement, just as I have no desire to try to shoo this animal away or somehow excise it from the neighborhood schedule. I like the fact that a skunk, in its skunkness, has no need for my approval and has no interest in my disapproval. The fact that it keeps me at a safe distance with its smelly capacities is just a function that is appropriate to a skunk.

Skunk is skunk, just as the guy sitting on the porch is just the guy sitting on the porch. Each of us gives and gets, so to speak, without ever lifting an improving or approving finger.

My Zen teacher, Kyudo Nakagawa Roshi, once remarked, "Except for me, everything is the teacher." On the face of it, and for those inclined, this can be taken as one of those nifty spiritual encouragements that zips along the intellectual or emotional circuits. How kool! -- the teacher and teaching is everywhere and always! Not one nanosecond is devoid of teacher or teaching! OK ... kool is kool as long as it needs to be kool.

But then, somehow, teachings like that can lose their authentic and administrative kool and just be ... skunk. Not an 'enlightened' skunk or a 'compassionate' skunk or a 'world-renowned' skunk ... just a skunk that is never seen and yet cannot be denied.

Idly and for fun, I wonder if that passing skunk gets home, jumps on its skunk-sized version of an iMac to report the smells of some guy sitting on a nearby porch. Do humans, once properly trained, make good pets? It's just a silly musing.

But in the sundowns of late, this passing skunk has made me think that giving and so-called generosity are simply the way of the world. I like what generally passes for kindness and generosity as well as the next person. It's nice to be nice. Nastiness sucks.

But ALSO ... what passes for giving and generosity sets up boundaries and barriers. Giving is what happens between two entities: I give to you; you give to me; and there are institutions that promote themselves by promoting this sort of giving. The 'haves' and the 'have-nots' arise ... not only does giving posit a you and a me, it also suggests that something can be given. There seem to be a lot of entities involved in authentic and administrative giving and generosity. And it's not in some sense 'bad' -- it really is nice to be nice and nastiness really does suck.

But ALSO ...

The skunk passes by in the evening darkness. S/he is clear as a bell ... asks nothing, gives nothing ... just goes about the business of being a skunk ... and in so doing, extends a perfect and edge-less and effortless generosity.

And encourages me as any generous teacher might, to do the same.

Is there a guy on the porch? Sure.
Is there a passing skunk? Sure.
Is there giving and receiving? Sure.
Is there generosity and kindness? Sure.
Are there authentic and administrative appreciations? Sure.

And yet for all that there is also the inescapable generosity of life -- unseen, perhaps, but known as surely as the pungence of a passing skunk. A gift without the extras of giver or receiver or given. Be yourself ... it is the greatest of generosities.

How do I know?

I don't.

Ask the skunk.

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