YOU’RE NO CHAO CHOU

Walking dogs again!

This afternoon, around 2:25, I went out to the back. The yard was no longer sunlit, but blue. Who’d have thought that we, who’ve had almost nothing but clouds for a long time, would enjoy clear skies to see the eclipse?

Even without glasses, peering through folded fingers, I could see the shadow overtake most of the sun. The shadowy lines on the ground changed, getting sharper than ever. Henry played with his ball, while Aussie, at my feet, didn’t seem discomfited in the least even as the sun narrowed into a thin crescent, just like the moon when it waxes and wanes.

“Did I hear right? Are you planning to stop teaching in your zendo?”

“Now, Aussie, relax. It’ll happen only as of July.”

“You mean, you’ll be here all the time?”

“I guess so. Right now, I don’t plan to go into the zendo or participate in Zoom gatherings for at least 6 months. After that, I may do something, I may not, we’ll see, but I’m certainly not going to teach actively.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s time to make room for newer, younger voices.”

“Like mine?”

“You see, Auss, we have some terrific new teachers, but given how long I’ve been there, I still get more attention and listening than they do.”

“I don’t believe it. Everybody knows that nobody pays attention to old people.”

“That may not be true in meditation halls. Would you like to come in one day and see?”

“Not in my wildest dreams.”

“You know, Aussie, sometimes, not showing up is the best way of showing up, of supporting new generations of teachers and peace activists. Even if I come back, I’ll just sit in the back and listen. When 80-year-old Chao Chou started teaching, he said he wants to continue to learn from everyone, including a young child.”

“What about a smart-alecky dog?”

“There’s something else, Aussie. I want to be once again in a place where I don’t know what I’m doing.”

“That shouldn’t be too difficult.”

“I’m too comfortable, Aussie. I’ve grown confident, found my voice. Teaching comes easily even as I continue to sit and study. Luckily, there are always questions and situations that invigorate me to go further and deeper.”

“But I don’t want to see you that often. You may be getting your vacation, but when do I get my time off from you?”

“I want to take another step into the unknown, Aussie. I want to start talking a new language where I don’t know the words, where I have no title, where I don’t know what I’m doing.”

“Come out and play with Henry and me. We can teach you how to bark and how to catch balls with your mouth. We can even show you how to shit in the daffodils.”

“You’re shitting in the daffodils? I’m not doing that!”

“Obviously, you’re no Chao Chou.”

“He was a great master, Aussie.”

“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. I wouldn’t even learn new tricks when I was a puppy.”

“I love what Roshi Joan Halifax likes to say, that her life is a pilgrimage towards uncertainty.”

“Some pilgrimage! Just wait till dementia hits. You’ll have all the uncertainty you want.”

“I don’t want to wait till then, Aussie, and it’s not about learning new tricks. I want to be in unfamiliar territory, not a place I’ve lived in for many years.”

“If you go to South Korea I’m not going with you. They eat dogs there!”

“I want to try new things, Aussie.”

“Good, go to a new restaurant.”

“I want to be in a place where I know or understand very little.”

“Donald Trump’s golf courses?”

“As I get older, Aussie, I see how much I value my routine. How much I value what I know.”

“Don’t worry, as long as you have me, I’ll remind you again and again of how dumb you really are.  But I don’t want to have to do that all the time; erasing your certainties is hard work. Do you know how many certainties you have?”

“I never counted, Auss.”

“132,695.”

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