Monthly Archives: February 2010


A Chance to Practice Letting Go of Perfection

Tomorrow I will be doan (time keeper/bell ringer) and kokyo (chant leader) at a one-day sit at Russian River Zendo. Tony Patchell, my teacher, will be acting as priest. Darlene Cohen will be out of town – so this is the first time Tony has led a one-day sit on his own. And it is my first time to be doan.

We are also going to do an oryoki meal, using the traditional set of three Zen bowls. I received an oryoki set from my wife a while ago, but have yet to use it. So tomorrow, that will be another first.

There are so many things that could go wrong! I have not yet mastered striking the bell – when I had to sit in briefly as doan at the December sesshin, I struck it so softly during kinhin (walking meditation) that only the people closest to me heard it and began walking faster, according to the signal. Those further away didn’t pick up the pace, because they missed the sound. So people started running into each other. I struck the bell again, and because of feeling so flustered, I hit it too hard, with a huge, resounding, “GONG!” Our silent meditation briefly disintegrated into a chorus of giggles by everyone present. Thinking of all the possible ways I could screw up tomorrow with my bell is making me crazy.

Last week, on Saturday at Russian River Zendo and on Tuesday at the Healdsburg group, I was kokyo. I have been having a low-grade cold with a throat tickle. And both times, part way through the chanting, my voice disappeared and I had to cough. I was completely embarrassed, and had a heck of a time recovering my voice enough to do the eko (chant response), where I’m the only one chanting. Tomorrow I am just praying that my throat behaves itself.

And then there’s the oryoki. Using oryoki is very ritualistic; every fold of the cloth, wipe of the napkin, turn of the bowl, is part of a traditional ceremony. I have seen it done, but never done it myself. I asked Tony if I could sit next to him, so I can follow his movements. He told me he wasn’t sure of all of them himself, but said we’d manage to muddle through.

The group tomorrow will be quite small, between ten and twelve people. Because of that, there will be fewer people available to do service. At this point, there is no eno (person in charge of the zendo and the whole day), so Tony and I will be covering for that role, too.

Given all of this, over the past week I have come to the realization that we will have to do the best we can, but not expect perfection. And worrying about it won’t help a bit – I know, because I worried for days, and nothing got resolved. I have to be okay with a mistaken hit of the bell, a cracking voice, a badly folded oryoki cloth, and having my legs fall asleep. It will be perfect practice for my perfectionist self.


The Challenge of Showing Up

Over the last ten days, a huge number of the people who are important in my life have been facing major health challenges.

My grandmother, who I adore, resides in her own apartment in an assisted living complex. She is feisty, stubborn, and hates it when people hover over her. She remains, at 99 1/2, remarkably independent, still doing her own laundry, taking in sewing jobs for other residents, and serving with numerous charitable organizations. When I went to take her out to dinner last Saturday, I noticed a large purple bruise on her chin, neck and ear. She said I was the first to notice it – she had fallen out of her bed the previous Wednesday. I was frantic with worry that not a single employee had noticed. She is supposed to report falls, but usually doesn’t, because she’s afraid it will mean a loss of independence. Driving home after, I was in tears, realizing that I had to step up my level of commitment regarding her care, make more regular in-person visits instead of phone calls, and talk to someone in charge. I want to be there for her – but part of me feels woefully inadequate to the task, and I can’t stand the thought that her health could be in jeopardy.

The first friend that I made when I moved to California, Aly, now lives in Bangor (California, near Oroville), and is the mother of three-year-old twins. Last month, she had an attack of optic neuritis, fearing that she was going blind. Just this past week she confirmed with Oakland doctors that it was probably the first sign of MS. My best friend in Kyoto, Yukari, had an optic neuritis attack while I was living there, and later fairly aggressive MS, including an attack that left her completely paralyzed on the right side for several months. My brother-in-law, Will, was also diagnosed with MS about two years ago, and he is continuing to struggle with the progression of the disease. This terrifies me, because these are young people, in their 30s and 40s, whose lives are radically and unpredictably changed. And all of them are dear to my heart.

On New Year’s Eve, my little two-year-old nephew Oliver choked on a piece of apple and lost consciousness. My sister-in-law had to perform CPR and call 911. He was rushed to a hospital in Napa, and then taken by ambulance to Children’s Hospital in Oakland. Alert doctors investigated beyond the choking incident, wondering why he had choked in the first place. They discovered that he had a congenital heart problem, where aortic tissue had wrapped around his esophagus and trachea, narrowing the openings. He was in grave risk of choking again. Yesterday he underwent heart surgery with a team of pediatric cardiologists in Oakland. Thankfully, the surgery went well, no surprises, and the prognosis looks good. But he is in intensive care for the next several days. He just turned two last Saturday – it’s a hell of a way to spend the week after your birthday.

Given all of this, I have been worried and stressed, vacillating back and forth from feeling helpless to adopting a “take charge” attitude where I am actively offering whatever support I can. Since the last few months have also been challenging for me personally, with at times devastating mood swings, all of these outside health concerns have hit me very hard.

Life isn’t easy, is it? Again and again, I try to ground myself, do the next right thing, and simply keep showing up. It seems like that’s really the only way to cope.

In the chaos of these recent days, one place that I have not showed up is here on the blog. And now, I realize that this, although understandable, has actually made things more difficult instead of easier. Writing here is as much a part of my practice now as zazen. And when I avoid it, I am only worsening the discomfort, not easing it.

So once again, it is time to commit to showing up, in all the many ways that I can and should.

Michelle Wing © Copyright 2014, All Rights Reserved