I have been reading a book called The Barn at the End of the World: the Apprenticeship of a Quaker, Buddhist Shepherd by Mary Rose O’Reilley. It has been my companion for months now. I am reading very slowly, savoring each chapter as a separate essay, which it lends itself to very well. The author writes about her time with Thich Nhat Hahn at Plum Village as well as her time working with sheep in a barn. My birthday reading included this passage of notes she took on one of Thay’s dharma talks:
“Koans are buried deep in the unconscious, watered carefully like flowers. They do not respond to intellectual reasoning. Mind has not enough power to break the koan. It should not be answered, but absorbed and waited for in right mindfulness until it explodes and wakens again in the conscious mind as a flower. What did you look like before your mother gave you birth? …
“At Plum Village, our basic koan is What are you doing? The answer is Breathing and smiling. Often I ask a student, What are you doing? Often the student responds, Cutting carrots. I say, Good luck. Now, you don’t need luck to cut a carrot, but you need luck if you are going to get your practice back on track.”
My life is a koan. My life with Steve is a koan on live chat. Our relationship doesn’t always respond to intellectual reasoning. We want to be able to express our irrational emotions and learn about each other from them. We want to move through adventures and experiences and be aware of ourselves and each other in the moment. We want to be present, to “show up” with a genuine answer to the question, What are you doing? And we want to look up. We’re working on it, and we are truly glad to be doing so. And sometimes, I realize that it’s easier simply to cut carrots. And that’s a mystery, too. “How wonderful. How mysterious. I draw water. I carry wood.”
My birthday evening was beautiful. I came home to find flowers delivered — two arrangements! I opened a bottle of champagne, cooked dinner, listened to music, and let myself loose until I was sobbing all over Steve. I felt very alive.
And today, I want to check things off my “To Do” list, eat bad food quickly and hide from my partner. Is there a reason?
There doesn’t always need to be a reason Scilla.. Just Being rather than Doing is enough
Hi Scilla, Happy birthday! It sounds wonderful.
If I were an English major (and I was), I would guess that maybe, only perhaps, you feel that you let yourself go a little too much, enjoyed yourself too much. Could it be that in some deep emotional place you are afraid that moving on to a new life and/or relationship–moving on in spirit as well as in more tangible ways–might mean you have to let go of the old one, either out of guilt or fear? I believe you could cherish the memories and still continue to value and honor your former life, and still make a new one. But that is just a thought. Only you can answer that question.
Warm wishes for many happy returns of the day, and the rest of your days.
Thanks, Naomi, for your comment. Pondering character is a good exercise for us writers, right? I spent a year of unemployment exploring those deep emotional places where I was conflicted about moving on. Grief is one of those events that is never truly over…and so is love. I am trying to flow unstuck through these rivers, usually doing quite well, occasionally swirling in an eddy for a while, but that allows me to get a 360 degree view before moving on. How’s that for working a metaphor? 😉