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23Apr

Challenging My Absolutes

On Tuesday night, I was on the edge of town at 9 p.m. pumping gas at a station. I heard a voice from the street call out, “Hey, mister – I’ll give you $5 if you give me a ride down town.”

I am easily mistaken for a man with my shorn hair, hat and bulky coat. Perhaps he would not have even asked me if he knew I was a woman. But I was annoyed. I turned towards him with a semi-scowling face, not answering immediately.

My annoyance came not from the request, but because he was putting me in the position of having to say no. I don’t like having to tell people no when they ask me for a favor. But this is an absolute for me. I never give a ride to a stranger. If I see someone stranded on the highway, I will call 911 for them. But I never stop. And even in my small town, that rule holds. It is nonnegotiable.

He stood, waiting for my answer. I finally said, “I can’t give you a ride.” He sighed, and began again to walk down the road. I watched him go. He was elderly, and carrying a cloth grocery bag. He shuffled when he moved, but I could tell it was from fatigue, not from drunkenness. I saw him try to hitchhike. No one stopped.

I stood there at the gas pump, finishing up. Something told me I needed to challenge this. What do they say in Zen? Nowhere standing? No fixed rules? I tried to think of how I could change my mind while still feeling safe.

Two years ago, my dog and I were attacked by two off-leash dogs on a walk. Since then, I have kept pepper spray in my car for our outings. I reached into the glovebox, took out the pepperspray, and put it into the cubbyhole on the driver’s side. Then I unlocked the passenger-side door and unrolled the window, drove out into the street, and pulled up alongside of the man.

“Where do you need to go?”

“Bless you,” he said.

His name was Michael. He had spent the entire day navigating the bus system in Sonoma County, and simply didn’t have it in him to walk the last mile and a half home to his senior apartment complex. He didn’t mention the $5. We both knew that had nothing to do with why I had stopped. I drove him all the way to his front door.

That one small act of kindness made it much easier for me to go to sleep that night.

6Apr

Kitsune – The Fox

We have vultures that frequent the green belt to the rear of our property, swooping down into the trees with a whoosh, whoosh of their wings. The sound always sets off our Rhodesian Ridgeback/Rottweiler, Teo. He leaps into the air in a barking frenzy, somehow imagining that he can capture the dark shapes. The vultures, of course, perch nonchalantly sunning themselves, oblivious to the big red dog.

This weekend, though, when Sabrina walked out onto our deck, she was startled to find a vulture lurking a mere ten feet away, sitting on our deck railing. As she told me later, “I waved my arms around to assure it I wasn’t dead.” The vulture lazily roused itself, and took off.

An hour later, after Sabrina had left to run some errands, I walked out on the deck, bringing the dogs with me. Both Teo and my lab, Ripley, sped out to the far edge, hackles raised, yipping and growling. At first, I thought they were harassing one of the neighborhood’s wandering cats. But their energy was too insistent, too focused.

I walked over towards them, and scanned the yard: tool shed, the compost pile, lots of leaves piled up near the base of nearby trees. Perhaps a raccoon? But our friends Rockie and Roquette weren’t usually out during the day. I dropped my eyes lower.

And then I saw. Right below us lay the body of a grey fox. She did not look as if she was sleeping; no animal sleeps like that. She looked as if she had fallen to her side, grown stiff, and then gone still.

I herded the dogs back into the house. The first thing I thought of was a need to cover her, to protect her from the vultures. I grabbed one of the blankets off our porch that the cats had been nestling in on cold nights, and returned to her. I didn’t look long. I simply brushed away as many flies as I could, and draped the cloth over her, then waited for Sabrina. I knew we needed to bury her, but I felt we should do it together.

When Sabrina arrived, I showed her why the vultures had been so close. Did you know that a group of vultures is called a wake? It was easier to imagine them as mourners come to pay respect, instead of scavengers. The fox was so beautiful; no predator wounds marked her body. Neither of us had ever had the chance to be so close, to spend such time looking at a fox. Death brings a strange intimacy.

We brought out a pickaxe and a shovel, and set to work digging a grave nearby. We glistened with sweat within moments, unused to that type of labor. It takes longer than one might think. I didn’t notice at first that Sabrina had shaped not a rectangle, but a circle. When the depth was right, she went to our fox, and gently broke rigor mortis, bending her into a curve. Then she picked her up and placed her into the hole, wrapping her tail up towards her head. Now she looked as if she were sleeping. Sabrina stroked her several times, murmuring, then stepped back. We filled in the hole, and were done.

But not quite. Sabrina had done everything she does so well, that touching and bonding. I, however, felt something was left incomplete on my side. For the last two days, I have been wishing I had done a simple service, recited a chant. I kept pushing the thought aside.

Tonight, I gave in to the desire. I put on my rakusu, brought my bell, chant book, incense bowl, and candle out to the deck. All alone, at two in the morning, I conducted a transition ceremony for our kitsune, the fox who came to us.

And after the last bow, I knew it had been the right thing to do.

5Apr

Opportunities

Where has the time gone? I am chagrined to see the date of my last blog post, and my dismal record of the last two months. But rather than whip myself with the proverbial wet noodle, I offer up these snippets out of those days, which have not been spent (yay!) wallowing in depression or (hooray!) reorganizing my file folders. I have actually been doing some really cool stuff. (How’s that for eloquent phrasing?)

My work with the YWCA Sonoma County has continued to expand. After the success of the writing events in October for Domestic Violence Awareness Month, I was asked to join a cadre of intrepid souls creating a new focus group for survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and elder abuse, under the auspices of the nascent Family Justice Center of Sonoma County. The goal was to find a way to help survivors “tell their stories.” The other members of the team bring the skills of law, therapy, social work, and advocacy. I was invited as a writer.

What we have come up with is a wonderful six-month group that we are calling “Expressions.” The women will be creating a journal, using both the written word and art to tell their stories. I have enlisted the aid of several artist friends, who will be leading sessions on collage, photography, and block printing, among other things. Plus we’ll do poetry, directed writing…And the end result will be a book, a journal, a life story, filled with color and beauty and pain and truth. After several months of planning, the group is set to begin on April 21 (meeting twice a month), and hopefully the prep time will lessen. All of us are so excited to see this actually come together.

I will also be giving my first “DV 101” talk (the basics of domestic violence) to a class at Santa Rosa Junior College, teamed with another volunteer from the YWCA, on April 19. I used to give such talks regularly when I did this work in the South Bay, but haven’t done one in years, so that will be both familiar and a little tingly at the same time.

At my newspaper job, too, I have been presented with a number of interesting stories of late. Sometimes weekly newspapering is simply school board meetings and planning commission coverage. But other times, I am able to write about things that feel like they make a difference. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about a local woman who was a living organ donor, giving 57 percent of her liver to a family friend who was battling liver cancer. She consented to tell me the story only if I focused on the importance of organ donation. So I did my research, and provided statistics on donation, told people what steps to take to become a donor, and provided websites for more information, in addition to telling her own amazing story.

And another story is coming my way soon. Two local women were recognized by our Soroptimist club for their participation in a program called Get on the Bus. The program brings children to prison to visit their mothers who are incarcerated. I interviewed the women briefly for the awards story, and they invited me to accompany them on their trip this year. So on May 7 (the bus trip coincides with Mother’s Day weekend), I will be on a bus to Chowchilla Women’s Prison. The inmates must apply for permission to see their children, and the children must be accompanied by a caretaker (often a grandparent). Get on the Bus provides the bus, insurance, three meals for the child and caretaker that day, and teddy bears and blankets for the ride home. I have contacted the prison to request security clearance, and everything looks like it’s good to go. I can only imagine that it is going to be a Saturday I won’t soon forget.

The reason I bring these things up, here on this blog, is that there is a clear connection for me between these actions I have been taking and my Buddhist vows. Initially, I was simply holding onto the ledge with my fingernails, sitting on the cushion for myself. But as I moved into the year preceding my jukai (lay ordination), I began to think more and more often: What do I have to give? In what way can I follow the bodhisattva path?

One of the first ways was taking on this blog – which is why I must now promise to come back to it. The blog is what made me realize that the path for me was to use my writing, my art, to help. To take this facility that I have, this urgency I feel to put words down, and use it to connect people, to tell stories, to create bridges, to seek justice.

So here is my opportunity. What is yours?

23Mar

From Kobe, Jan. 17, 1995 to Tohoku, March 11, 2011

The news in Japan has catapulted me back to my time in that country, my memories of that place.

I lived in Osaka and Kyoto from 1990 to 1993. I have a master’s degree in Japanese Studies, and initially went there on a Japanese Ministry of Education fellowship to study at Doshisha University for a year and a half. I extended my stay for another 18 months, because I fell in love with the culture and the people.

Eventually, in September 1993, it was time to return to the U.S., It was a hard decision to make. I was deeply conflicted about leaving Japan and upon arriving in California, I experienced severe counter-culture shock, mourning the streets, smells, and sounds of Japan, as well as the loss of my friends and connections.

So on Jan. 17, 1995, when a 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck Kobe, also severely damaging nearby Osaka and Kyoto, I was devastated. The pictures in the newspaper, and those flashing across the television screens, were places I knew – collapsed highways I had driven across, flattened neighborhoods familiar to me, all the sights of “home.”

The brother of one of my closest friends lived in Kobe. His wife was pregnant, and near her due date. As was the custom, she had gone to her mother’s home in the country to wait for the birth. Her son was born that morning, the morning of the earthquake. Thankfully, he and his mother were not in a Kobe hospital. His father was among the commuters in the city, dealing with the chaos.

The Kobe earthquake was the biggest to hit Japan in 47 years. Nearly 6,500 died, and 27,000 were injured. More than 45,000 homes were destroyed.

And now we have the Tohoku earthquake of March 11, 2011, named after the region most affected in northern Honshu. The quake was of 9.0 magnitude, and geoscientists are saying it is the most massive event to have occurred in the last 1,200 years. With the compounding factor of the tsunami, at this point, there are an estimated 10,000 people dead or missing. Another 440,000 have been evacuated, and 88,000 buildings have been damaged. The most frightening unknown, of course, is the nuclear reactor plants, threatening meltdown.

Japan is one of the world’s most earthquake-prone countries, and experiences thousands of minor tremors each year. Nothing, however, can prepare a country for a disaster of this scale.

After 18 years, I have lost touch with all of my friends in Japan. I see their faces now – Yukari, Nariko, Machiko, Tomio, Nakamura-san, Sonoda-san, Sayaka-chan, Kenji-kun, and many more. I am praying they are each in a safe place, with food, electricity, water, and heat. I am holding them in my thoughts when I meditate, hoping that can somehow help keep invisible radiation from finding them, wherever they are.

Simon Winchester’s book, “A Crack in the Edge of the World: America and the Great California Earthquake of 1906,” tells the tale of that historic San Francisco quake. Winchester’s book delves into the science of seismology, and speaks specifically about the San Andreas fault. It is a fascinating read for those who want to learn more about this awe-inspiring movement of the earth.

That is the scientific part of the brain working. The heart/mind, though, is split open with grief over this event – and it will take some time before all of this human suffering can be absorbed into our world consciousness. A lot of time on the cushion.

(The Japanese kanji at the top is jishin – it means “earthquake.”)

21Feb

Hard News

As a small-town community journalist, much of the time I cover events and happenings which range from the tedious (school board proceedings and planning commission deliberations) to the repetitious (annual fundraisers, parades, benefits and other activities). There are also many feel-good stories: new businesses opening, personal profiles of remarkable citizens, tales of unusual pets or hobbies.

The Calistoga Tribune is a serious, dedicated little newspaper, and we take our job to heart. We do not flinch from the real news. So we also deal with the tensions that do arise, when conflict breaks out in the city council, or economic woes plague local businesses, or budget crisis threatens to bankrupt the city coffers.

For me, though, as a journalist, the toughest stories are the accident and crime stories. When two teen-agers driving drunk are killed on the Silverado Trial when they veer in front of another driver, and they are all local residents, or when, like last year, a young man is gunned down in his car, the first murder in Calistoga in decades. Or when a local school board trustee’s daughter is stabbed to death in a nearby city, or a Calistoga mother accidentally runs down an elderly pedestrian in a crosswalk, killing her instantly.

These are the painful stories. My job as a reporter is to call the people involved, to find out the facts, to get the news. But the last thing I want to do is to interfere in any way in these moments of shock and grief. I feel like a horrid parasite, an intruder. What I have to do, to get myself through it, is remind myself if I can do it well, I will be doing the person a favor, letting them tell their story with as much grace and honesty and dignity as possible – always respecting any request for a comment that is “off the record” during the conversation.

A few weeks ago, three elderly women were housesitting for an artist in town. Returning to the house after dinner at a local restaurant, they interrupted a burglar. The man indicated he had a gun under his shirt, and said if they didn’t cooperate, he would shoot them. One managed to escape to the back yard and call 911. After some time, the other two were able to get away and lock themselves in a bathroom. The burglar (now kidnapper) fled, stealing a pickup from a neighboring property. A SWAT team, sheriffs and police arrived, but were unable to locate him. It turned out later he had left his cell phone plugged into an outlet near the studio. With that information, they identified him, and put out a bulletin. The next week, the man called police and turned himself in.

It turns out that the brother never did have a gun – it was only pretend. So this terrible burglary gone bad has now turned into something very serious because of an imaginary gun – three counts of kidnapping, two counts of elder abuse, one count of abuse, plus the count of burglary.

Initial reports described him as itinerant, but I heard he had at some point lived in Calistoga. He was a Latino man, and his name was unusual. I asked our former city councilmember, a sort of Latino ambassador, if he knew who his relations were. He said he was pretty sure he was kin to a local restaurant owner. I know this restaurant owner, so I went over to speak to him. I asked the hard question: Is this man your brother? The answer was yes. The weight and heaviness showed in his body. This man, this good man, has carried so much. He lost his teen-age son to cancer when I first started writing for the Tribune. He has another young son who has been in a lot of trouble lately. He has been struggling with the restaurant, trying desperately to keep going, putting in long hours, never taking a day off. And now this.

He told me the brother had been in an accident 18 months ago, run over by a car. Since then, the brother had “not been right in the head.” He had been making poor decisions, unable to determine right from wrong. Still, this restaurant owner, my friend, was making no excuses for him. He said, “He must pay for his mistakes.”

When my friend told me all of this, I knew as a journalist I should be writing it down, preparing to put his words into my next follow-up story. But in that moment, I could only see his eyes, his sadness, the terrible burdens he carried. I walked up to him, and said, “I’m so sorry.” And I gave him a hug.

He needed that hug much more than the community needed the facts.

14Feb

Walking with a Busy Mind

Our teacher Tony sent us an e-mail last week saying he noticed that our kinhin (walking meditation) could use some work. He asked us to watch a nine-minute video on YouTube to pick up some pointers.

The video is by a priest living in Japan. He has numerous instructional clips online, covering a wide range of topics. The format is very simple – just a priest in his robes, alone, standing in a tatami mat zendo next to a scroll, in front of a video camera.

His offerings about kinhin are very basic. He says to walk following the rhythm of the breathing, feet slightly apart gently in alignment with the hips, talking small steps roughly equivalent to half a step forward at a time. When reaching a place where you must turn, make the corner sharp, not curved. The gaze is to be focused one meter ahead, just as in zazen. He says, “There is no need to look anywhere, because in kinhin, we don’t go anywhere.”

He says to make the walk very simple, almost casual. “The feeling of dignity is not achieved through great self-awareness.”

But it is the comment right at the end of the video that really spoke to me. He said kinhin is tricky, because as soon as the body moves, the mind moves. “That’s why kinhin is very, very stormy.” He said to simply be aware of it, come back to this presence, and go on.

I was so relieved when I heard him speak those words. All along, I thought it was just me. From early on, kinhin has been the most challenging part of my sitting practice, because my mind goes romping through the room, creating all kinds of chaos. I struggle to keep my gaze focused. I do things like count the number of people in the room, look at everyone’s socks, plan the upcoming service.

At one of my first all-day sits, kinhin nearly did me in. Each time we went for walking meditation, I found myself embroiled in the most relentless criticism of everyone I was sitting with. I was critiquing everyone’s haircuts, their clothing, the way they walked, the sounds they made when they breathed in the zendo. My head was filled with seething negativity. It was horrid. During dokusan, I spoke to Tony about it, and he said, “Wow. You’re the first person who’s ever told me something like that.” I looked at him in shock and embarrassment. Then I realized he was kidding. Obviously, I was not the first.

Over time, now that I have been practicing a few years, I have managed to calm my kinhin, and make it more of an extension of my zazen. It is still a little edgy, but no longer filled with criticism. Sometimes it is even meditative.

What a relief, though, to hear these words by this priest. That kinhin creates a stormy mind. Now I know there is a biological connection – when the body moves, the mind moves. Knowledge is power. Insight can be a balm to a troubled spirit.

Now when I walk with a chattering mind, I can catch myself, come back to the present, and take another step. Just like zazen. Return to the breath.

31Jan

A Single Bow

A single bow can change a life.

The story goes that our teachers, Tony and Darlene, forty years ago, entered San Francisco Zen Center. On a staircase, they passed a Japanese monk. He stopped, and bowed to them. There was a presence, a fullness, an embodiment in the movement, a “now.” In that simple gesture, all of Zen tradition, all of the dharma was carried. Tony and Darlene knew this is what they wanted to learn, and to pass on.

The Japanese monk was Suzuki-roshi, and the bow is what began the path leading to the eventual establishment of my own lineage at Russian River Zendo.

Now, in this time of loss, priest Cynthia Kear reminds us we must trust our own Buddha-nature, our own bodhichitta, knowing our practice will continue. She said, “We are the recipients of Darlene’s dharma transmission; but now we are also the transmitters.”

Everyone has been living up to that expectation. It is not just newly dharma-transmitted priests Cynthia and Sarita Tamayo Moraga who have taken on the duties of our several sanghas. To give Tony time and space to grieve, senior students have stepped in, giving dharma talks and leading services for the past two months. People have been reaching out to each other with special zazen sessions, offerings of dokusan (private interviews), and plans of one-day sits.

Mostly, though, we have simply been available to each other. There have been many warm, heartfelt hugs, kind words, expressions of care. I have never once felt alone in this.

Darlene herself, the last time I saw her, said to those of us gathered there, that we could all be dharma transmitted. I have thought of that often. How do I, in my everyday life, in my words and my movements, carry the message of Zen? How do I pass on kindness?

If I were to bow, what would someone see?

4Jan

Comfort Zones

It is so easy to take things for granted, I find, when I move through the world. Without even realizing it, I establish comfort zones all around me, places where it is easy to be who I am.

A simple example. I have been a vegetarian for the last 20 years. My immediate family, and my closest circles of friends, all know this about me. So whenever I am in a social setting with them, they go out of their way to be accommodating. Even the book group that I have been a member of for the past eight years prepares vegetarian options for each dinner when we meet.

On Christmas, Sabrina and I were invited to have dinner with a dear aunt and uncle who had never before hosted us for that meal. My grandmother, another aunt and uncle, three cousins, two of their wives – all told, there were 13 of us, every one of who I had been with on many an occasion, but never exclusively, on their turf.

We sat down at the beautifully decorated table, and the food was brought out – and I realized suddenly that almost every dish had meat in it. The first course was soup and Caesar salad. Couldn’t do the salad – anchovies. Thank goodness, Sabrina and I had made the potato leek soup. But then, it was ham, pasta with shrimp, a bean casserole with bacon, deviled eggs . . .

The worst part is feeling that I will embarrass my hostess by having an empty plate. Luckily, there was a fruit salad, and mashed potatoes. I put the fruit salad in a bowl, and centered that on my plate to take up space, then ladled up a big dollop of potatoes. Then I picked up a dinner roll and some black olives, and ate as slowly as possible.

What I realized, at the end of the meal, was how much I have come to take for granted the fact that so many people in my life make my vegetarianism a non-issue. I wanted to go right home and write thank you notes to everybody.

Similarly, I move within the comfort zones of established social networks, a job that I have held for eight years, a marriage that is secure and nourishing, a sangha I can call my home. Who knows what else I’ve grown blind to?

Staying in familiar places has not always been my modus operandi. During my first 35 years of life, I averaged almost one address change a year. Before this job, I had never worked anywhere longer than two years. My longest relationship was five years, but the average was closer to 18 months. Permanency wasn’t even part of my vocabulary.

Back then, you may have been able to chide me for not having staying power, but you certainly couldn’t have said I was afraid of new things. So it is interesting, now, to be in this place in my life where I find that perhaps I have settled in so comfortably that it is time to readjust.

Maybe it is time to step out of the comfort zone a little more regularly.

30Dec

Winning Millions, Needing Little

On Dec. 28 at Twin Pine Casino & Hotel, Dale Valentine hit the jackpot. He was on the slot machine for the state-wide California Megabucks – and he won $8.4 million.

Dale is a retired firefighter from San Leandro who owns a vacation home in Lake County, where he and his wife spend much of their time, and he’s been a regular customer at Twin Pine Casino over the past 15 years.

In the press release issued on Wednesday by the casino, Dale said he plans to put some money in the bank, make a large donation to Hospice, and to learn how to ride a Harley.

His wife said she would like a larger bathroom and a closet in their house.

When I read that last line, I laughed out loud. Mrs. Valentine didn’t say she wanted a fancy new house. She wasn’t looking for anything spectacular. Just a larger bathroom and a closet.

Oh, if we could all be satisfied by such simple desires!

The cynics out there are probably thinking that the Valentines will be changing their minds soon, finding more expansive ways to spend their millions. But I prefer to believe they are going to hold on to that home-spun goodness, that basic feeling of already having almost enough. If so, they may be among the lucky jackpot winners who actually have money in the bank 10 years down the road, instead of blowing it all on extravagant toys.

It’s New Year’s resolution time again, and I can never resist the urge to examine my life and set out goals, priorities, and aspirations for the coming calendar year. Even though I inevitably fail to live up to most of them, it is a deep-seeded tendency of mine – so much so that I do it throughout the year, not just on Jan. 1.

My main problem is that I make lists that are too long. I never choose just one thing. I want to exercise more, lose weight, stop smoking, practice the piano, brush up on my Japanese, write more regularly, meditate every morning, learn to be a better cook, send my work out to be published, put in more hours volunteering, spend more time with my grandmother, be a better listener, stop negative thinking . . . you can see where I might run into difficulties feeling successful.

But, regardless of past experience, year after year, I make these resolutions, and I draw up charts and diagrams and lists. I set up schedules, and try to follow them. For a few weeks, maybe even a month, I am as disciplined as a Marine. I cannot be swayed from the course. Inevitably, however, something jostles me, bumps me off track, and I gradually veer off into a staccato pattern of start-stop, start-stop, start – and then the final, gut-wrenching, slamming crash.

I am not, at heart, driven much by material goals. So the immediate analogy to the slot machine winner might not be apparent. Having $8.4 million would be nice – but only in that it would allow me 24 hours a day seven days a week to work on all of those other things I just mentioned.

The real connection, I think, is in the simplicity of the wishes given by Mrs. Valentine. She didn’t call out a laundry list of desires. She started with something small and attainable, something she knew would give her pleasure, but at the same time, was not grand in any way.

I have a quote from the Dalai Lama written on a large sheet of construction paper up on my home office wall. It says:

Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.

What if, in 2011, instead of making a list of “Fifty Things I Need to Improve About Myself,” I decided to read that quote every morning? Because if I could focus on that one thing, I would feel better about myself, better about other people, and better about the world – which would make for a pretty good year.

4Dec

Lives of Grace

In Tuesday night’s dharma talk, we discussed the koan of Haykujo and the Fox, Case No. 2 from “The Gateless Gate.”

The story is that whenever Master Hyakujo delivered a sermon, an old man was always there listening. Finally, he approached him, and asked who he was. The old man said he used to be a priest on that same mountain, also known as Master Hyakujo. But when a monk asked him, “Does a perfectly enlightened person fall under the law of cause and effect?” this man answered, “No.” And then he was condemned to live as a fox for 500 lives.

The man asked Hyakujo to “say a turning word” on his behalf and release him from the body of the fox. The man again asked the question, and Hyakujo said, “The law of cause and effect cannot be obscured.” And the man was deeply enlightened. He asked Hyakujo to perform priest’s burial rituals for him – and Hyakujo took his monks behind the mountain, where they found the body of a fox, and performed priest’s rituals for it.

The sense here is that those lives as a fox were a curse, a punishment, something which the old man was very ready to be rid of. And yet, when you read on in the accompanying text, you find these words. (All of the “Gateless Gate” koans have a “Mumon’s Commentary” section following the actual “case.”)

Mumon’s commentary:
Not falling under the law of cause and effect – for what reason had he fallen into the state of a fox? The law of cause and effect cannot be obscured – for what reason has he been released from a fox’s body? If in regard to this you have the one eye, then you will understand that the former Hyakujo enjoyed 500 lives of grace as a fox.

So what I came away with, hearing and reading this koan and these words, was that we, all of us, at whatever degree of enlightenment we may find ourselves, are subject to the laws of karma, of cause and effect. There is no place of rest. I cannot hope to attain a level of equanimity in this realm that will put me beyond pain, fear, desire, hope, suffering. Some might throw up their hands in despair, and say that we are all condemned to live the lives of foxes.

But then I read that final line: If in regard to this you have the one eye, then you will understand that the former Hyakujo enjoyed 500 lives of grace as a fox.

Five hundred lives of grace. Despite the hardship, the worry, the challenges. If I choose, this day, each day, I can live in grace. Even as a fox.

Michelle Wing © Copyright 2014, All Rights Reserved