Here follows a bit of drabble for my Zen friends...
I've been thinking a bit about the last exchange in the comments of my last post, and I realize I need to make a bit of an amendment to the assertion that I made that "Zen has no healing art". In fact, Buddha is often referred to as "The Great Physician", whose prescription cuts straight to the core of every person's suffering. A large part of this prescription involves practices designed to get one out of one's head into real, direct experience. To me, this is the heart of Zen: It doesn't really matter what you think. Instead, what do you do?
"Mind"-- what we think and worry about from moment to moment-- really can be the source of a lot of misery, especially from the perspective of trying to heal an illness. Sometimes there's a funny notion that one's symptoms must indicate something horrible...and we groove for a long while on that thought, which builds into more terrifying overtures, each one worse than the next... As a professional worrier, I've perfected this practice best of all!
But I think it's also important to realize that just as often, healing an illness in oneself is not always as simple as "mind over matter". In my studies of psychology and spirituality, quite often I've seen that these "worries" are flags sent out by the mind, much in the same way that pain sensations are flags sent out by nerve endings. These flags alert us to something being amiss, or bad, or dangerous to our healthy existence. So while it's true that to go down a path of over-blown worry will lead us to worse suffering, I believe it's just as true that ignoring the "flags" altogether keep us in dukkha, the state of suffering Buddha addresses in his teaching.
An idea from Suzuki Roshi (I think I remember him as the source, anyway! It's been a long while) illustrates my point. Absolutely nothing needs to be changed, nothing needs to be taken away. To me this says, mind does not need to "go away". That is not the "object" of Zen; in fact, there really is no object of Zen but an openness to direct experience. (Maybe Joko Beck would agree?)
So then, what does the direct experience of your pain offer you? What are your worries trying to alert you to? What behaviors need modifying? What old stories that you tell yourself need new editing? Just what is it that you are really trying to ignore? Herein lies the key to dukkha! And so that old mind seems to serve a purpose, after all. And that is at the core of my own Spring's Intent: using the mind as a resource for healing, for living fully-- for living completely.
I'm sounding preachy, I know; I hate it, and it's my own biggest pet peeve. But I read so much "Buddhist" thought that the physical world must be ignored or transcended in order to achieve enlightenment...and it saddens me. Samsara is Nirvana, as they say; so what if we embraced it fully, rather than so many times just pushing and pushing away? Roshi took his Demerol, after all...
Today was marvelously warm and docile, and a new carpet of green-- grass of every variety and stripe-- began poking its way through the brown haze of last year's growth. So too was it a day on the tail of the full moon, and on the wing-tip of a new cold snap sweeping in from the northwest. By day's end I realized it was the perfect opportunity, this space-between-times, not-quite-warm and not-quite-cold and not-quite-spring-but-not-really-winter, to set my intention for the coming year.
Rather, the intention seems to have set me for once, for I am all excitement about it, and the fact that this year I can broadcast it from a virtual rooftop? Well. A lot of people seem drawn to this inner exercise of intention-setting for the new year at the turn of the new year; using the quiet introspective nature of winter's chilly hoarding of light, folks like me hibernate a bit psychically, drawing in energy rather than putting too much out, meditating on what is in stock and what needs replenishing. The result buds out as spring's first leaves do, oftentimes with a quiet, "Ah-ha".
So here is my "Ah-ha". I have long wanted to make a serious study of herbalism, but I knew the time needed to be right; I knew I needed to have a few ducks in a row, to be clear about why I was doing so, and what methods I would undertake. I didn't want to learn about it just for another such notch under my belt.
Truth is, I read a lovely story in a Reader's Digest Condensed Novel once, of all places, and one image from that narrative has rested quietly as an inspiration in my mind ever since. I don't remember the tale, nor the author. But the image remains of a large room with old wooden cabinets, thick wooden countertops, and hundreds of gathered, dried herbs of all kinds hanging from the ceiling beams. I must have been all of 20 when I read that passage, and new to a more pagan orientation...and I knew that was the life I wanted-- or at least, the workshop of the life I wanted.
And now, I am excited, for I know a little more of just how I'd like to begin my study, and perhaps even a little more about how I'd like to use its benefit.
First, for inspiration, I treated myself to a copy of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. It is a lucky thing to have a birthday at this time of year, when birthing the ideas of winter's end can well use the energy generated by a birth-anniversary, and not to mention the little bit of cash flow that comes in as gifts. This is a political book, and an almost spiritual treatise to boot, of one family's decision to live off of only that which was produced in the vicinity of their home. I've decided to read this bit-by-bit, drinking in the inspiration and hardship of a life lived locally, and well. Their story begins in that springtime switch, when surprise snowstorms remind one that life is not posey and sing-song; I am determined to meter my goals this time with a pinch of realism, so the raw honesty of this book is called for and appreciated.
And while I was in that bookstore, I grabbed a hold of something completely promising: How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, by Mark Bittman. He lists 15 different tricks for cooking seitan. I am in love with this book. Our daily alchemy with the plant world isn't so exotic and removed; it lives in our kitchens, several times a day at our tables, and I am ready to be moved. It's those basic interactions with the beauty of the living world that deserve the most attention. I am curious to see what new relationships to food might transpire.
Of course none of this would be any fun without a more esoteric exploration, would it? Here my texts of choice are two that I have begun, but not had the time to dig too deeply into: The Secret Teachings of Plants by Buhner, and Healing Threads by Mary Beith. In the former, I'm hoping to recapture something of the magic that I lost long ago, when I chanced to have an amazing conversation with a sunflower, and I passed on it, because I was afraid, and ...well, it was a sunflower, so it felt a little like losing my mind.
Maybe that would have been a good thing.
So, I am eager to rediscover this world-- and this trust for what is in it, which surely lies beyond any thing I could imagine for it. "The world is too much with us," wrote Wordsworth-- too much getting-and-spending, and not enough being-with, and noticing. It is time to stop and not only smell the roses, but learn to converse with them.
I pray it is not too late. Already the sun today felt prickly and searing; the most direct spot on my porch thermometer read near-90*. What wisdom and beauty are we to lose in an era of Global Warming? Really, it makes me cry-- and it makes me afraid. Which brings me to the latter, Beith's book, which outlines the herbal tradition of the Celts of the British Isles, mainly what is now Scotland. I've no claim to be a Scots-Gaelic reconstructionist, nor a recon of any stripe, but what is essential is learning a wisdom that has been passed from generation to generation in my Celtic ancestry.
There was a cr person who once asked me why, if I was ordained in another tradition, weren't the gods of that tradition enough? Well, yes; and no. For there is no "Zen" healing art, and my fundamental belief is that one does not heal as a "healer" per se-- Rather, one heals in concert with the energy of the situation, the salve and spirit the herbs provide, and the co-action of the spirits in attendance. I've had some amazing interactions with one deithe and I feel an invitation by another who is willing to help me learn the tricks of my heritage-- should I be so bold as to just ask.
Along the way, I shall chronicle my efforts in learning relationship to plants here, and of my learning relationship to the deithe here. I welcome any wisdom or encouragement that my visitors might pass along...and I hope to impart something of benefit to those who also may use it when I'm done.
On the verge of my 39th year, as the wind howls and roots grow deeper, Pilar
Lately my thoughts have traveled to issues of relating to time, as well as to place. It's no secret that the move back east has been a bit of a struggle for me; yet as the seasons are shifting once again, I find myself easing up a bit on my snarkiness, for the playgrounds are full, people are (almost) milling about in the warmer weather, and overall life seems to be bubbling about the place.
It is a good shift from that cold winter introspection...
Out! Up! Over!
I made three interesting discoveries today, and it made me think of this time of life, and this change in season. The first is pictured above: it is the subtle change-of-light that happens this time every year, just before the equinox. It is a light and a scent (not the "springtime" scent, but something related to it) that lets me know a "shift" has happened. And rounding the corner towards the kitchen, sure enough, I found it: a little bend in the light, and the light that particular quality of glow and golden-white that lets me feel to my bones that winter has indeed passed. The planet has endeavored to tilt towards spring once again! Hurrah, to the warm sun, and to the new life that wakes under the soil.
The second discovery was a teeeny bunch of crocuses that burst from out-of-nowhere in the oddest space next to my (dirt) driveway. (Kind of felt something like driving in to the Wal-Mart parking lot only to find the circus had come to town there :)
Third was a double-header. I walked a little ways into the forest this afternoon to deposit some chicken soup that went bad when our power went out last weekend. Down I stooped to dump the soup from it cauldron; and somehow I twisted upwards just the right way to see the brightest, greenest grass growing hidden in a dark thicket of bare trees and brambled branches. Sweet surprise! But then... in the ditch just before that thicket, I discovered a pile of old trash, mostly glass bottles of every size and color (but mostly of the "beer" variety"), that must have been collecting for over 20 years. My heart sank, so quickly I turned again to that electric green growing above it...
Despite all of our disrespect, Dear Mother, you continue to turn and grow and amaze with full, vibrant life. Ahhh, mile go raibt maith aghat! mile mile mile.....
So here then, to spring, and beginingless time; to the winter we all trudged through yet again, and the stirring of existence popping up into its brightest self once again.
Oisin G'Dea's mama, wife of an Ruaphok Gaiscíoch; lover of the creative life, nomadship and stewardship; zen priest, gardener, artist, writer, herb-crafter, counselor and dreamer... I've lived in the inspiring high-desert, mountain-punctuated New Mexico & Colorado ~ misty redwood-coated coastlines of Northern California ~ strangely elegant riversides in Southern Maryland ~ snowy, busy Greater Boston ~ lovely and welcoming Hilltown Massachussetts.