BootsnAll Travel Network

Honeysuckle and Soto Zen

I’m back to myself! This morning I can move again without pain. I resumed my morning meditation and my walk in the park, where great mounds of honeysuckle are blooming extravagantly, promising summer. The fragrance makes me drunk with joy, as it’s very much this moment , but it also holds me in a kind of rapture going right back to my early childhood in North Carolina, where I first learned that sweetness.

My internet connection was down for two days, which gave me an unexpected computer fast, and that coincided with my whole physical system being “down.” For two days after my collision with the parking lot, every part of my body was a wreck. I took frequent naps, gulped Tylenol, and limped along behind Duke at regular intervals, both hands on the leash handle, till his human companion came home Sunday night.

Remember those overleaf diagrams in high school biology–those pictures of muscles and bones? Every one of mine had its own hot aura, and every movement took effort that showed me exactly which muscles were involved in turning the steering wheel of the car, lifting a spoon to my mouth, or bending over to tie my shoe. My face, knee, and shoulder turned green and purple, and I was crabby and depressed. I must have been completely relaxed when I hit the pavement, as I didn’t even have a half-second to register that I was falling, which is probably why I didn’t break anything. But the event gave me a sharp reminder of impermanence–always helpful.

Despite my physical miseries, I visited Houston Zen Center for the first time Saturday morning. I had that same feeling of “coming home” that I had when I was thirteen and came across a little Buddhist shrine on a beach in Hawaii. I’d been thinking of going for months, ever since my friend Carolyn returned from Tassajara last year and said she’d learned there is a Zen Center in Houston. But I dreaded the long commute and don’t know the part of Houston where the center is, so I kept putting it off. This time I went because their guest speaker was Mike Newhall, from Jikoji Zen Center . I had never heard of Jikoji till last Tuesday, when I got an email from a friend of a friend who said I might like to meet a friend of hers named Mike Newhall, who runs a little Zen Center in California. It seemed like too much of a coincidence to ignore, so I dragged my aching body down the stairs and drove forty-five minutes via three different expressways to get there.

Mike is a gentle, upright man in his sixties. He hums and chuckles as he talks, has a palpable radiance and a vibrant sense of humor, and says he meditates not out of discipline or will, but because it’s “so interesting.” Yes. “You never know what’s going to arise while you sit there. It’s always different.” We had a short but significant conversation after his talk. He offered to help me find transportation there from Green Gulch, offered me the use of his car while I’m there, said I could use Jikoji as a base from which to explore other centers. I am stunned by his generosity, his humility, and his welcoming energy. Jikoji sounds like an idyllic little place, far from the roar of traffic, an hour and a half south of San Francisco, in the hills. That door stands open now. Fascinating how life continues to unfold.

For no rational reason, I seem to be headed in the direction of Soto Zen practice now. I’ve been practicing one form of Buddhism or another for over forty years, and the heart of all paths–meditation, socially-engaged practice for peace and justice, simplicity–is the same, though the outward manifestations are different. If I can thread the expressways and get to Houston Zen Center regularly for the next few months, I can learn the vocabulary of Soto Zen. All the Japanese language and ritual (shosu, roshi, kyogen, ango, etc.) is completely new to me, as my practice has been mostly Vipassana and Vietnamese Zen, with occasional exposure to Tibetan and Chinese Zen. I guess I’d characterize my own practice as “ecumenical” Buddhism, but I’m open to what Japanese Zen can offer, and it’s interesting to me that I got this deep “coming home” feeling again on Saturday–a little like the feeling I get when I walk by a mound of blossoming honeysuckle. Don’t know what it means, if it means anything at all. I’ll just hang out and discover.

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