As I sit in meditation in my son’s old bedroom, I still enjoy his choice of colour for the walls: bright autumn leaf yellow-gold. In this room I feel the warm autumn sunshine and am surrounded by whispering trees. He has long since moved out of the house, creating his own life pattern. His childhood furniture has been replaced by black sitting mats, cushions, and a smooth hand-made wooden altar.
The old sash window, purposely propped open even now, in the depths of winter, lets in gushes of cold air, the sound of light rain on nearby bushes, and the odd early Sunday morning sounds of a sleepy neighbourhood.
It’s been a long pandemic. I’ve struggled to maintain my daily practice and after a long break have managed to get back on the cushion this morning, offering myself the gift of calm and acceptance I find there.
I sit in meditation to remind myself of the Buddha’s discovery: we are all whole and complete just as we are, warts and all. I have all I need, nothing has to be done or learned or transformed. One day I may perhaps deeply and joyfully realize this. The Buddhist life is so simple it can be deceptive. Just sit on the cushion with an open heart and open mind, awake to what is going on.
Whereas ordinary reality is all about distinctions and definitions, another perhaps more satisfying and meaningful way is possible too.
In life we have many dreams, tell ourselves stories about what is going on, interpret life relentlessly. In the decade or so since my ordination I have come to feel an overwhelming connection to the simplicity of what is. With gratitude I momentarily release my death grip on conventional reality, the discussions, the pros and cons, the interminable opinions about our lives, government, work, families. I just viscerally feel connection to all living things.
Zen practice encourages me to explore this alternate path. I ask myself What is real? Is it this? Is it that? Keep looking! And simultaneously asking Who is asking? Who am I? Keep looking!
This search may become obsessive, spilling into daily life, shattering previous ideals, notions, firmly held beliefs, and for this reason we zen practitioners are supported by a teacher and community with intense values. Our group practice seems to be as rigid as my explorations are fluid. With almost militaristic precision we sit in silence on perfectly placed mats, walk in silence in step, in uniformly dark clothing, chant in unison at full voice.
Perhaps peer support is our greatest strength, but another support is in interacting with my vows. The most demanding of these vows, for me, is the vow to be of benefit to all beings, great or small, animate or inanimate.
As I sit, I hear a thud from the living room. My cat, excited by birds feeding outside, has bumped his silly head on the window pane, yet again. (He’s fine)
Unlike my cat with his deeply seated hunting instincts, I’ve seen myself slowly change with respect to being of benefit to all. Early on I was wowed by the cool aspect of making a vow (omg, this is amazing), later I was overwhelmed by the magnitude of issues of racism, climate catastrophe, unregulated capitalism. Now, currently, my response is “What can I do from right here and right now, in my small corner of the world?”
As I’ve turned towards social justice issues, to learn, for example, anti-racism, I have found a community of others working in their lives too, to be of benefit to all.
Rev. Soshin McMurchy (she, her, they, them) lives on the ancestral lands of the SENĆOŦEN and Lkwungen speaking peoples, serves as a Buddhist Chaplain with Zenwest Buddhist Society and the University of Victoria Multifaith Services, works part-time at the Greater Victoria Public Library, and lives with her partner of 40 odd years.
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* This article was puublished in the print edition of the Times Colonist on Saturday, February 20th 2021