“Aussie, do you know what’s your deepest heart’s desire?”
“Easy. Triple Flavor Chicken, Duck, and Chicken Liver Kabobs.”
“That’s it, Auss? That’s your deepest heart’s desire?”
“Well, maybe not. Gotta think.”
“How about joy for the coming year? Peace on earth?”
“Nah, Beef Burger with Bison Strips. I’d go for Triple Flavor Beef, Pork, and Chicken Twists but I don’t eat pork.”
Aussie and I talked about this after walking in the fog. Bare winter trees on either side of us while the air serves to conceal rather than reveal. We don’t see other people or dogs till they’re practically upon us.
This is a change for me. I’m blessed with a sharp, discriminating mind, the kind that likes to see and say what’s what, what feels real and what nebulous, the kind that likes precision and definition instead of feeling one’s way through things.
I talked to a friend yesterday about an unpleasant conversation I had with a student, and he laughed. “You like things to be sharp and clear. My guess is that when you’re confronted by someone or a situation that’s not that way, you run for the hills.”
He was right, I thought, grateful for his diagnosis. I’ve always liked things to be clear and transparent. “Precision is a spiritual practice,” my brother used to say. No patience for vagueness or ambivalence, for words that don’t mean anything. Sometimes for all words.
But now I feel the need to go into the fog. Or perhaps into the earth. In my last post I wrote that I suddenly stopped doing a morning service to Kwan-yin and instead just plant a stick of incense on the (now) wet ground, nothing more. If this was a koan, I’d say that I’m that incense stick wishing to be planted deep in the earth even as a small part of me burns off.
My friend also reminded me of a quote by Shunryu Suzuki, who wrote the book Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind: “The most important thing is to find what’s the most important thing.”
It’s so easy to be distracted by the small, daily tasks of existence: shopping for and cooking three meals a day, dog walking, emails, news, folding laundry, telephone calls, brushing and feeding Aussie, picking up something at the store, filling up the car with gas, sweeping the kitchen, emptying the dehumidifier in the basement. Those daily tasks could define the rest of my life if I let them, and my conditioning to be a good girl and complete the tasks on the list doesn’t help much here.
And there are other things to do with teaching, with the Zen Peacemaker Order, and even with this blog. Last night Jimena and Byron took me out for dinner as a belated birthday gift. They were thrilled with the 82 Christmas gifts we managed to give out to children of immigrant families and we talked about the immigrant community now, at this time of omicron. But even those efforts, valuable as they are, can be a distraction. They’re from 2021, somewhat from habit and old inspiration.
What’s the most important thing going into 2022? Where lies my passion for something bigger than me? I feel I know well the part of the incense stick whose smell wafts up with the wind, explores bare branches and crows, hovering over muddy paths and the head of Kwan-yin. That visible part of the world is familiar. I struggle with the part that’s buried underground. I struggle with the invitation to go dark.
This is the time for it. The gray darkness goes on for many hours in the day; rare have been the mornings I opened my eyes to see blue skies this winter. I used to groan when I saw that first thing in the morning, but now I appreciate it. The universe is beckoning to me, saying: See? I even robbed the light from the earth so that you could more easily make the journey to the underworld.
I think of those who buy special lamps at this time of year, anything, anything for light. I get Facebook messages: Don’t despair, the light will come back. I’ll tell you honestly: Who needs it right now? The universe operates so much for our benefit, and if it gives us the dark freely, no charge, why not go there? It’s calling out to us to lie in the deep earth, rid ourselves of the things we commonly know and do, and listen.
As I wrote last time, Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion left Jesus in the dark at the very end. In this change of year, over the next weeks and months of shadow, can I leave myself there, too? Can I stop worrying about return of the light, about resurrection, about a new inspiration firing off a splurge of fresh energy. For now, can I go dark?
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