By Katharine Kaufman //
When I lived on Old Stage road, on morning walks I picked up the heaviest rock I could carry. I took a few steps then dropped it. Pick it up. Hold. Let go. Repeat. Sage, an Australian Shepard mix, had his version of the same game.
In 1993 at Jikoji Zen Center I realized there was no end to my self-clinging. After two months I thought I should be done with new ways to suffer. My plan was to be enlightened by the end of my three-month stint. I had no idea what that was. I didn’t know that I was asking for my personal suffering to be exchanged with suffering for others.
Four of us sit zazen in silent early mornings, work in the afternoon, and evenings make dinner for anyone who happens to drop by. Then we sit with our new friends. This scratches at my attachment to my darling practice like an old vinyl 45. Sure, I belong. Everyone who wanders in here belongs.
In October the wall I look at while sitting grows darker earlier every day. A night- shift ER doc shows up with a huge pink, yellow and blue cake marked down, from Safeway. The list of non-food ingredients on the plastic box is impressive. Bent over, tight, hobbled; after a couple days he figured out the secret to meditation. It is about letting go. Then he is gone. The cake is not. (What to do with the cake?) My four buddies and I continue watching the light and shadows appear and disappear. In the kitchen I say to my dharma brother, Rob, I have disappeared. He punches me on the shoulder and says, Seems like you are right here. Then, on Saturday the doc is back; Let it go, he says.
Mike Newhall is Shuso, guiding monk. Thoughts are like bubbles and twigs and things floating down stream, he says. In my case various sets of stairs, parts of buildings, hallways, sections of highways, trees, babies, relatives, goats and chickens, parents, partners, the clothed dead. A day is spent on and off considering my actual address book. I imagine my ancestors sitting in a line behind me, waiting for me to discover true nature.
Return to Sangha, Dharma, Buddha. Back to the breath. With each inhale I seem to become. The next exhale I disappear. What is there to let go of.
I lie in tall grass with a Zen boy who lives in a garage. He’s about to leave to join the forest monks. The next day we are sitting in the front seat of a pickup truck and as he hops out, we don’t exchange addresses. There are none.
Leonard Cohen sings, love itself is gone.
I light incense. Smoke curls and rises; incense turns to ash.
Even a piece of paper remembers its fold. My dreams and memory-flashes flow through my veins, bones and tissues. (Is this moving pulse in my wrist called love?)
When Glenn and I broke up I saw my trailer park rug between my bare toes and thought, these are my toes. The shag carpet was so real and beautiful and blue I wanted to call my mother. After three days of staying mostly in my bed, Karen dragged me out of the Ponderosa Mobile Home Park # 53 to go cross- country skiing.
No one belongs to nobody.
Eyelids lower. Sentences and dream images mix together on the page and the book falls over. I wake long enough to turn out the light.
Maizumi Roshi says there are 7 thousand births and deaths in one second.
The wild plums behind the church. Rows of bushes. Plums turn purple and fall all over the ground. Some stay and dry on their branch. Some are eaten by coyotes and birds, pits pooped out, and the plums begin again. The manager of the fields drives his big white pickup to Steve and I and the dogs. He is a Latino man wearing a pressed shirt, new blue jeans and boots, designs carved in the leather. He manages these miles of fields and more, out East. There is an old man in the passenger’s seat. Coyotes killed four calves this month. Traps will be set. Don’t walk here. We say good to meet you. Thank you.
The man on the radio says people are scared of the wind but it’s water that kills.
I walk with Chloe and Jake down the alley and see Steve’s green Chevy pick up moving away. Yesterday Steve and I lifted a root bulb out of a tight pot. His fingers pushed dirt around the plant’s roots in its new clay pot, and today he sees me in the rear view, sticks his hand out the window and waves. I flash to when Joy Adamson released Elsa, the lioness of Born Free, to the Kenya wilderness.
Fiona Apple sings she is shadow boxing; I been swingin’ around me, wondering when you’re gonna make your move.
I imagine straws floating on water. I thrash out to try to catch one of the last ones, as if a hollow thin reed could save me.
I keep seeing the same woman at different places we walk. I begin to think of her like one of the women in Zen koans who knows the Way. In one the tea lady gives two travelers a test. They don’t see her for who she is and then something happens and the guys drop to their knees in respect. Binoculars around neck, our lady walks with a cane and the other hand is bandaged. She gives Chloe and Jake treats. She doesn’t come to Golden Ponds so much anymore, she says. Birds and foxes disappeared after the flood. Yesterday she turned to me, Jane! Then she waved me on. I thought you were Jane.
I only now realized, yield means harvest.
The wind blows in here and smells like it’s going to rain but it doesn’t.
My palms are warm when I place them over my eyes.
~ o ~
Shambhala Mountain Center hosts Precious Knowing: A Meditation and Yoga Retreat for Women with Katharine Kaufman, January 17–21, 2018 — click here to learn more
Featured image by Jessie Thomas
About the Author
Katharine Kaufman, MFA, is ordained as a priest in the Soto Zen lineage. She studied Yoga in India and practiced and taught for many years at Richard Freeman’s Yoga Workshop and Wendy Bramlett’s Studio Be. Katharine is an adjunct professor at Naropa University where she teaches Contemplative Movement Arts and is a student of poetry. // KatharineKaufman.com