I flew to Seattle this past weekend to be with over 30 teachers at the annual gathering of members of the Lay Zen Teachers Association.

As happens countless times, I moan and groan at the cost, the preparation (Who’s taking care of Lori? Who’s feeding and walking the dogs? What about the dehumidifier in the basement, the flower planters hanging outside, food, etc.?), the packing and airport dance, and when I arrive, I see on others’ faces what they see on mine: travel tension crumpling into smiles, half-closed eyes widening with delight, and slouching shoulders relaxing and arms widening to give big hugs.

I can’t begin to convey the sheer joy of meeting up with other dharma teachers. I don’t usually know their pasts, I sometimes don’t know their lineage, family, or training, but this I know: They have given so much of their lives to study, practice, and teaching. It’s a diverse group of people who found that the same thing mattered to them over many years. I can call it dharma, but what I actually mean is the practice of asking and pursuing certain basic questions: Who/what am I? What is at the essence of this life? And most of all: How do I serve it?

Another way of asking the question, posed by a 78-year-old teacher who grew dear to me over this past weekend, is: What is mine to give now? What meal can we, in our 70s, cook, with decreasing energy and memory but with clearer discernment and cleaner love, that still feeds and nourishes?

We stayed at the beautiful Archbishop Brunett Retreat Center outside Seattle, overlooking.Puget Sound, watching herons and gulls fly over the streaked water, tiny sailboats in the distance. Lots and lots of talk, discussion, and exchanges of ideas, dwarfed by blue skies and a few white, billowy clouds, blanketed by love.

I learned a lot, but the conversation a few of us had over a bountiful Sunday morning breakfast stays with me now:

My dear friend, Bob Rosenbaum, who teaches in Sacramento, California, told us (I paraphrase): Whenever I get up in the morning, regardless of whether I’m down, up, or in between, I open my eyes, look around, and say: What happened?

What is this waking up after a night of sleep, opening my eyes to see the bureau against the opposite wall, a pink blanket tossed aside in the middle of the night, the big photo of Bernie and Jeff leaning against the corner on the floor, Mayumi Oda’s print of Kwan-yin with many hands, and morning light coming in through the window? How did I wake up? Scientists can explain it to me, but that first instant of opening my eyes, I say: What?

Jewish people, upon opening their eyes, thank God for restoring to them their soul. But what’s there before gratitude? Maybe a shock of recognition, a sharply drawn breath: What happened?

Bob also told us this story about his grandson. The little boy would gather all his things—toys, picture books, ball, games—onto a little wagon, then run hard, pushing it with all his into a wall with a bang. The toys would spill with a big clang and scatter on the floor, and the little boy would look around at what he’d done, bug-eyed, and say: “Wow!” Then he’d pick all the toys up, put them in the little wagon, rush with all his might and crash into the wall, everything would topple, and what did he say again? “Wow!”

And repeat. And repeat. And repeat.

Someone said it reminded them of the Big Bang, or else that this is how God created the world. She packed all her things into a container, smashed it against a wall, everything went flying—light, darkness, seas, land, moon, stars, carpenter ants, sandhill cranes, humans, day lilies—and She said “Wow!” And maybe, like Bob upon waking up, wondered what happened.

                   Donate to My Blog                Donate to Immigrant Families

You can also send a check to: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351. Please write on the memo line whether this is in support or immigrant families or of my blog. Thank you.