Honoring the Moment (written 2004)
I live in my head a great deal. In walking meditation I began to see how much I do this by trying to place my awareness in the soles of my feet, in the muscles of my calves. It was like junior high drama class. Place your voice in the top of your head and down in your belly. At first it seemed silly and artificial. Later, just difficult. And only much later, possible, but never natural. So I worry about my intellectualizing of experience. Of my tendency to immediate reflection. My experiences are like folding a towel. The experience is now, laying out the towel's length, but as I've barely done this I begin to turn it back upon itself, looking at my motivations, my reactions, and then again folding the fabric upon itself and seeing these. Till the smooth length of a moment is instead a layered block. Over and over again. I have come to desire simplicity in my experience, to want to stop this folding in. But I see simultaneously the paradox of desire and aversion here. The judgment of my own judgment. But even this is “what is”. Breathe. Let the fabric drop again: in a single length or back upon itself. Each is good.
Yet, it is easy so often to feel in touch with the ground of being in nature. When I walk our woods path each day with the dogs I am aware how I ease my breathing, relax into the sounds of my steps and the breath of the wind, the snuffling and rooting of each dog who accompanies me. The knocking of the woodpeckers and the scolding chatter of the squirrels. A scurrying rabbit now and then or the drumming of the grouse. I watch my feet much of the time for the trail is uneven and I notice new growth, fallen branches, the footprints of deer in the mud or snow, droppings of rabbit, deer, coyote. Last summer the trail was marked nightly by some little black bear who had claimed this territory. The trail moves in and out of woods, in sun and then in shadow. We cross two small wooden bridges over swampy areas. The first will soon fill with the brilliant yellow water flowers that R. sometimes gathers for me in bouquets. The second, over summer, will fill with tall cat tails. In nature, with animals, I often feel the reality of connection with everything that is. I imagine this is so for many people. We drop “who we are expected to be” when we are in this kind of environment. And we drop the over-thinking that complicates the moment.
Zen teacher Dogen mentions “pillars and walls” in his list of teachers. So this teaching of connection does not stop as we move into the world of mankind's making – around me now are cups and table, chairs, pens and books...no visible pillars, but certainly walls, the stuff that fills a kitchen, fills a home.
All these ordinary things. “...use a blade of grass to make a six-foot golden Buddha body...” Dogen says and I laugh, remembering a Zen Dhamma talk. A Buddha in a head of cabbage, a handful of sweet peas. The making of a Buddha is in how we regard each object and being in the world. When we see the buddha-nature in each thing, when we honor that in the way we treat each being, each object, then we make a Buddha from a blade of grass, a head of cabbage. So in my day today I make Buddhas of the food I prepare, the blankets I smooth, the little dogs I cuddle and cajole and the big ones whose ears I stop to scratch. Being in each moment and honoring what touches my path. This is practice. This feels like the verge of a deep understanding. It is not just slowing down. Being here. Experiencing my own life in the fleeting moment, but it is honoring the Buddha in what I touch. The path I walk on, the cup I drink from, the water I drink, the plate I wash, the floor and the mop, the toilet and the brush, the knife and the bread. A new glimmer, a new piece in the puzzle of understanding what mindfulness entails.