A wise Buddhist teacher
once told me that anything you do,
if you do it mindfully, can be
a form of meditation, and I have
taken this into my practice,
albeit with mixed success, but that
is one reason they call it practice.
Walking silently, following
your breath in and out, aware
of your feet, the earth, the sky
is definitely meditative.
Chopping onions, carefully drawing
the knife thorough the layers
creating neatly incised bits
is certainly meditative.
Sitting by a pond watching
the sun slowly set it ablaze
as the breeze ruffles the surface
is absolutely meditative.
But folding laundry, no matter
how mindfully I approach the task
always and quickly morphs into
a mindless search for the missing sock.
Why do you climb the mountain
and seek entry
into the small cabin.
Why do you give up
your home in the valley.
You should be turned away
for if you seek
a higher understanding
you demonstrate to all
there is no depth
to your practice.
A reflection on Case 94 of the Iron Flute Koans.
He is four today. He’s been practicing being four, so it is somewhat second nature. But he made a decision. Next year he will be five. He was going to be 27 next year, but decided that can wait another year. I asked him why he was delaying, he said, “You get better presents when you are four or five.” I confess his logic, but wonder what I should do with the tie and cardigan I bought for his next birthday?
He is never certain what to do on days
like this one, when the winter takes
a particularly nasty turn, the temperature
hovers at utter emptiness, and the wind
elects to try to enfold everything it can reach
in a coat of frost, that bleaches life away.
He walks each day, through the nearby park
if the weather is the least bit cooperative,
through the neighborhood when not, where
at least he can take a small shelter from the wind
in the shadow of houses closed up tightly,
life walled away within, smarter, he imagines
than he is, his fingers ill-gloved, slowly losing
all feeling, but this is his practice, something
he does because it requires doing, heeding
an edict from an unspoken voice. And later
emerging from a hot shower, feeling limbs
restored, he glances at the weather in hopes
the next day will be kinder, and slow in coming.
The greatest teacher
is one who offers nothing
and shouts it silently
once the student has departed.
You cannot know
what the blind man sees
for you cannot see
through his eyes
and the deaf woman
may hear a symphony
in a flower.
When asked what is
do you answer: life?
A reflection on case 71 of the Iron Flute Koans
When I was twelve, I think,
maybe in the last days of eleven,
and in my third year of piano lessons
my teacher, Mrs. Schwarting, she
of no first name, and a steady hand
that could squeeze the muscle
of my shoulder, a taloned metronome,
gave me a small plastic bust
of Beethoven, told me to place it
on the piano, so that he could watch
my daily practice and insure
my eyes were on him, not the keys.
Ludwig is long gone, lost
in one of our moves, one less
gatherer of the dust of other activities.
Now, sitting on the bench,
flexing fingers demanding independence
I realize that his smile was one
of age, thankful for his deafness.
Previously published in Fox Cry Review, Vol. 23, 1997 and in PIF Magazine, Vol. 20, 1999.
He likes the sitting, at least at first. It does calm him, as it is supposed to, and he knows he needs calm in his life. Even his knees accept the stillness for a while. Soon enough they begin to question the wisdom of this practice. Good for him, maybe, but hell for them, regardless of the position, lotus, seiza, chair. Hurt a bit less, hurt a bit more, but hurt certainly. He can ignore his knees longer and longer each time, but he knows that sooner or later he will give up, when the silence becomes deafening.