Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Wheelbarrows, Woodchips and Curves

            On Sunday, I went out to work in the garden for the first time this season.  It’s only February, and it feels way too early to be out, but the sun was shining and no snow was on the ground.  A sweatshirt, hat and light pair of gloves were plenty to keep me warm.
            I used the green plastic wheelbarrow that is getting a lovely patina of scratches from its usefulness, to move wood chips from a pile by the compost, over to a path I first made last year.  It’s a path that goes off of the official brick walkway for about twenty feet to a clump of three trees on the eastern edge of the Temple grounds.  The three trees, all mature maples, have grown as a sturdy triangle.  When standing between them facing west, one tree is behind your back and one on either side.  It’s a natural ‘room’ – a place to be in the universe that has some orientation – not just floating in space – but the vertical presence of steady trunks guarding the flanks and protecting the back.
            I first put a bench there, but simple benches, while nice to rest on momentarily, are not actually very comfortable to sit on.  To be truly inviting, a garden bench needs a back of some sort – something to lean against – some relief from the insistent uprightness of our lives.  It’s hard to stand up all the time – though of course I love it – we love it – to be head toward heaven and to move through space – sitting, running, walking, standing – the postures of human aliveness.  But sometimes, I just want to sit back – to be held and supported – even a wooden back will do sometimes.
But back to the green wheel barrow with the scratches that demonstrate its happy service.  And back to the triangle of trees.  Last year, we made the path to those trees, put a small circle of crushed stone under the trees and then a bench there.  I have since replaced the simple bench with a cheap white plastic chair that looks to me like a throne between the trees.  Now it’s a place to rest and survey the kingdom from the safety of the redoubt.  We tried to make the curve of the path inviting to those walking on the main path.  We fiddled and got something OK, but it never felt quite right.
            But on Sunday, I took several loads of woodchips to refresh the path that was by now almost invisible – what with the weathering of the woodchips and their natural inclination to disperse.  My intention was just to add another layer, but as I worked, it occurred to me that the path needed more curve.  The most enticing path to the triangle throne needed more playfulness. 
Even though just a short distance, I saw clearly that it needed to start off headed due east, then swerve to the south, and then back to the east.  A simple curve was not enough, it needed more change to be inviting.  So I amplified what was there in possibility – made it stronger – more eccentric. 
And for me, some subtle delight in shaping the curves – getting the sweep of the outer edge just right and then the transition and change of direction.  Like the shaping the side of a voluptuous pot, the belly curving out in a fullness and then diminishing.  The swelling and the return forever moving—even in the finished piece.
            Then the inner elbows of the curves called for decoration – so I moved one sculpture ten feet closer – into the crook – as if it was the reason the path did not go straight.  Then the other elbow felt empty so I moved a broken cement pedestal that was languishing in obscurity by the shuffleboard court to fill the void.  And the obligatory round zen rock on top to mirror the shape of the sculpture. 
            Later that afternoon, I made two friends come out and see what I had done.  I felt like a little boy who wants to show off what he has done.  But my excitement outweighed my reserve and my pleasure was amplified in the sharing.
For the past two days, I’ve been looking out the window of my room at the back of the temple.  I can see the beginnings of those wood chipped curves and a piece of the white chair is visible between the trees.  I am filled me with a subtle delight and I smile.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Morning After

            No wake-up bells this morning.  No footsteps sounding up and down the stairs.  Our three-week meditation period has just ended.  Last night the zendo was full of people.  This morning just a few of us remain.     
            I make my way downstairs to brew a pot of tea and am greeted by the spray of yellow daffodils that I last saw by the Buddha on the altar.  Their round glass vase with the fluted edge has been carefully place in the center of the wooden-topped kitchen table – the one with the slender and curvy white legs.  I notice and appreciate.
I think that’s the biggest thing about coming out of a long meditation period – or, I suppose, even out of a short one – the noticing and appreciating.  The simple things.  The everyday things. 
Of course it’s all a miracle – the way the sky gradually lightens with the coming day – the way the white stitching on my slippers winds around and around as it holds brown top and bottom together.  Ask any two-year-old and they will tell you.  The world is fascinating place – everywhere you look.
The past three weeks have been simple—sitting meditation alternates with walking meditation, dharma talks and chanting all happen according to a pre-arranged schedule announced with bells and gongs.  The daily routine is carefully planned to allow us to turn our full attention to each moment.  We practice the simplicity of noticing and appreciating – our breath, our life – everything that arises in the vastness of mind and body.  No need to plan.  When it’s time for lunch, the bell rings and we go to lunch.
But today I begin to re-enter the world of planning and scheduling and ‘getting things done.’  I feel as if I am picking up the clothes of my life that have been strewn about the room.  Life-coach, Abbot of the Temple, home-owner, husband, author of a book about to come out – all clearly ‘me’, but also strangely unfamiliar.  I re-dress my self slowly, noticing how easily I get lost in the detail and dizzy with the unfamiliar complexity of choice. 
But mostly I am happy to be back and curious about who I will be this time.  My prayer is that these clothes of my self may hang a little looser on my frame – leaving a little more room for noticing and appreciating in the midst of it all.