For my birthday, Lori bought me a small birdfeeder that affixes to my window, right outside the pane, so that I could have a real close-up of the woodpeckers, juncos, finches, and chickadees that will feed here all winter. This is in addition to some 5 or 6 other birdfeeders that hang in back and out front.
News has gone out all over the neighborhood—Come and get it!—and I think we attract birds from all sides of the tracks. But so far, none at my feeder. Perhaps they can see or sense the person sitting on the other side of the glass, moving very little, but still moving. Perhaps they just need time.
Me, I tend towards impatience, wishing for things to happen more quickly. I think it’s a function of a high level of activity that doesn’t seem to diminish much though I’m in my 70s, and that doesn’t give me much rest or time to relax. I often berate myself for that, especially when I find myself justifying a lack of responsiveness to friends by whining: “I’m so busy!”
Lately I’ve stopped whining, just paying attention to my lapses and fatigue in silence. It’s only a matter of time before your body, or some external illness, forces you to take things easy, a voice reminds me. Wouldn’t you like to learn that before it happens?
Yes, I think fervently, yes. And then I repeat my usual patterns, my hyper-activity.
But you know, space and matter are tricky things. They’re not opposites, as quantum scientists and Buddhists know, they interact very dynamically. My day-to-day life may be more manic than I’d like it to be, more driven than is necessary, but it’s one of the ingredients that helped me get on the path.
I recently read a wonderful story called The Thief, mentioned in Emmanuel Carrere’s book, Yoga. It’s a tale of a thief who hears talk that there’s a treasure buried somewhere in the grounds of a nearby monastery. He wants to find and steal the treasure, so he goes to the monastery and gets a job cleaning the grounds, washing dishes, mopping floors, peeling potatoes, etc., all the time keeping an ear out for talk of the treasure.
After 10 years of doing this the abbot of the monastery asks him if he’d like to be a postulant monk. The man agrees, since he still hasn’t found the treasure, and starts praying, studying in his cell, talking to the other monks, doing all the work they do, attending liturgy in the early hours of the morning, and still listening for some words that will reveal the treasure’s whereabouts. Ten years pass, he takes final vows to be a monk, and lives like that for the rest of his life.
Only on his deathbed does it occur to him that he did find the treasure after all, one far more valuable than gold, silver, or jewels. But in order to find it, he had to be a thief.
No, not but, rather and. He was a thief and he was a monk; one enabled the other, the second wouldn’t have happened without the first.
I’m reminded of one Sunday afternoon sitting on a bench overlooking New York’s Hudson River with another resident of the Zen Community of New York. We were building the Greyston Bakery then, as well as the start of its social services, and people were dropping like flies. My friend didn’t like to work so hard, told me he never worked like this his entire life, and complained. But here my love of activity and busyness found their place. I didn’t mind the long hours, the lack of rest or weekends (at least not then).
“This is the place for me,” I told him.
I was driven and obsessive, not the healthiest combination in the world. But in my case, at least, that’s what it took to work there, to get on the path of engaged Buddhism, to meditate, study, work, do—all the ingredients we were offered to cook one incredible meal.
I was crazy—and I found a treasure.