Puzzles (written 2004)
When I first felt the falling off of body and mind I thought I had arrived. In some place where peace was complete, where I floated free...no, where I disappeared altogether and achieved some new level of experience. But this seems now to be a place I visit in sitting from time to time, a place that is serene and soothing, but not a place apart from this place at all. And I wonder even if I should be pleased to go there sometimes. Being here...feeling the pen in my hand, the table beneath my forearm, the cold draught at my back, sniffling to avoid reaching for another kleenex, this is where I need to be. Mindfulness, not mindlessness. And so more contradictions and a confusion my discursive thought processes cannot sort out. This is all there is. There are so many of these tangles in the teachings. Tangles in my understanding. This is another place to open, giving up the struggle to understand in the conventional way. It's not about cramming for an exam.
How do we speak of looking within when there is no one looking? It is only a convention of speech then. No referent at all. Though “I” am not, I say “I look”, “I sit”, “I speak”, “I see”. When I first began practice with my distance teacher, I recall her suggesting to me to say it differently when I labeled experience: seeing, looking, sitting, speaking, thinking. Drop the “I”. Note the “is-ness” of experience alone.
Struggling with this now, my mind settles into a soft state as I lift my head and gaze at the sifting snow on the deck. This morning I had some timeless surreal experience that is like a koan itself. I had set my alarm for 7:00 a.m. to allow a rare sleep in. I was weary when I woke to the bell but I knew that was because of the late working nights I've put in working the kennel alone for awhile with J. away. The bell tolled again as I tried to talk my body into rising. I turned it off. I showered. With the shower and then sorting a load to wash and making coffee and laying out vitamins and meds for the boys, taking my own, pouring coffee and reading Dogen, I came to 7:47, then nearly 8:00 as I went outside. I fed the cats and gave Jet, our dog, a fresh drink and biscuits. Did the kennel pee breaks and cleaning and breakfasts for the 8 dogs here. When I came in, it was still 7:47. I thought my watch had stopped but every clock says the same. And checking the setting of my alarm I found it set for 7:00 as I thought. Where is this hour I'm missing? I feel like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, waking to relive the same day over and over. Is it a mistake or some jump in the snapshots of time? Why does my rational mind not insist on a mistake, an explanation? Instead I feel an odd acceptance of the notion of no time and a clear experience of this.
Dogen again, commenting on our clumsy search for truth. “It is laughable to watch a person tearing apart the boat looking for the sword that fell into the water.” To search your pockets for the key you left on the shop counter. To look through the fridge for the apple someone else ate the evening before. How often do we exert our energies in fruitless searches, in the wrong directions, in mistaken assumptions? Yet the person who tears apart the boat in search of the sword must not have known it fell over the side. Didn't hear the splash. What am I missing then? What piece of information did I miss that I look in the wrong way, in the wrong places for the sword of truth. The sword of truth. The image is apt. Swords are beautiful and dangerous. Gleaming and shimmering. Even the plain blade has beauty and the handle, made for grasping, is often intricate and amazing in detail. The way it feels in your hand can be a delight. The weight and molding. Yet a sword's beauty often makes me shiver and shrink away. I cannot deny their beauty. I cannot forget their danger. The pain and injury they can so easily inflict. Like the truth. The truth of impermanence and mortality. Is it this involuntary retreating that makes me close my ears to the splash, turn my back as the metal sinks beneath the water's surface, gazing instead at the solid wooden deck of the boat, straining to find the gleam of metal beneath a coil of rope, jutting out from under a wooden bench.