25 November 2009

Thanksgiving and Zen

No, I haven't gone tofurkey - there's just so far I can go - but I can tell you that the time I've spent on the mat has definitely affected the way I cook, especially for Thanksgiving.

In the very first face-to-face I had with Roshi (Wendy Egyoku Nakao,) she said the heart of the practice was sitting. (Roshi doesn't say that verb like anyone else; her "sit" is muscular, it has force and weight.) But her second and final instruction in that very first chat about Zen practice was that I might try, several times a day, to bring my awareness fully back into the present moment. For instance, while brushing my teeth, something I rarely remember doing because my plan-making brain wanders ahead into what I have to do the rest of the day, I might just brush my teeth. With all of my attention. Just drink a cup of coffee. Just drive my car.

This sure isn't easy to do. I don't know about you but, when I try and fail to do something, when I try to "just" brush my teeth and I catch my brain racing off several minutes after it's gone and find my toothbrush rinsed and back where it belongs (or not ;-) but have no recollection of doing it, the first place I go is self-flagellation: "Why can't you...?" Or "You'll never be able to..." Or "This is too hard..." Which is, of course, just more of the same wandering mind.

But cobble together a few moments of "just" cooking and it's amazing what disappears; the scurrying, distracted person I tend to be because I am so rarely "just" doing what I am doing, for one. Suddenly, the potential disastrous outcome is remote and irrelevant. Overwhelming piles of dishes become just the thing I am doing at that moment. The days of collecting the ingredients, preparing, and then cooking the food, calling my Mom with last minute questions, actually become joyous actions when I do them one at a time. This isn't just because of the time I've spent sitting; part of this is what comes from the ritual of cooking essentially the same meal for long enough that I've begun to relax into it, but this idea of fully living my life, of peeling one potato at a time in a kitchen filled with perfect smells with my boys working next to me...who wouldn't want to do "just" that?

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  1. One day at a time? How about "one moment at a time"? I like that.


I'm interested in any and all comments although it may take me a while to post them.