Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Last bow to a great teacher

Last Friday, after a short battle with cancer, my cat Plink died. Our family, minus Boston-based daughter Laura, accompanied him to the veterinarian's and stayed with him as the vet administered a lethal dose of  anesthetic. Plink had stopped eating and drinking, and we knew the rest of his potential time would consist only of suffering it out to the end, so we made the decision for him to avoid all of that. He was brave and sweet and clear to the end.

Plink was the most dedicated member of my local sangha, here at home; above is a picture of him on my meditation cushion. When I sat, he sat. He also sat a lot without me. He did not need me in that regard.

Plink was a great cat master, embodying his true nature without attachment, aversion, pride, humiliation, or concern for past or future. When he was hungry, he ate. When he was cold, he found a lap. When he was done with you, he walked away without a backward glance. When he was in need of exercise, he took himself for a walk. When he was playful, he'd tussle with you, but never really use his claws. When he was affectionate, he'd rub himself on your leg, meet eyes with you, and bump up against you again. When he was without need for activity, he sat with eyes at 3/4 mast, ready to move if called to move, otherwise still and at ease, in deep cat-samadhi. Most of all, when he was tired, he slept. A lot! He was a cat, after all. It's one of their highest powers, to rest deeply. Throughout his life, Plink conducted himself as a cat perfectly at all times. He gets an A+ from me for his essential catness.

I bow to Plink's embodiment of a life lived beyond the bonds of craving and aversion. I learned a great deal by watching his example, and hold it as an ideal to live the life of grace and ease that he enjoyed.

I was blessed to share this cat's life. There's a part of me that misses him, and grieves his departure. And there's the concurrent knowledge that nothing separate really came or departed with the appearance and dissolution of this furry, house-dwelling creature we called Plink. Form is emptiness, emptiness is form. Long live Plink. 

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The secret truths about floor wax

Funny things can happen to you on a silent retreat. For instance, you can end up talking with your teacher, in complete sincerity, about floor wax.

At White Mountain Sangha, we try and have at least two silent intensives or retreats each year. This is time for sangha friends to explore truth in a supported, structured environment that encourages clear seeing of what is. All the normal life stuff happens on retreat. Joy. Boredom. Grief. Annoyance. Laughter. Anger. Fatigue. It all happens, only maybe more so. What is it like to refrain from speaking and socializing, yet to agree to come together to support each other's inquiry and unfolding into the truth of this life? I can't really answer that because it's different for each retreat and each individual. What I can say is that retreat has been essential for me, irreplaceable, and also sweet and dear.

The first retreat I sat was also the first retreat I managed. Hah! That's usually the way with me: I want it, I go get it! My teacher, Norman Scrimshaw, had been teaching here in NH for just a few months, and I was already bugging him for a retreat. He told me, if you want a retreat, somebody needs to run it. So I volunteered. It was a lot of work, organizing housing and food, taking registrations and answering questions. Never mind actually finding participants! But somehow we said it would all work out, and it did.

Now about the floor wax: we were housed in a family residence near Norman's house that was mid-way through a restoration. As retreat manager, I was responsible for replying to any emergency notes that people left. On our silent retreats, we agree to refrain from speaking and only pass along notes that are highly necessary. And I had received an "emergency" note regarding what kind of product one of the retreatants should use on the newly refurbished wood floor. Now I was also charged, as retreat manager,  with checking in with Norman at the end of each day to report any issues, concerns with the retreatants, etc. So that night, in my precious interview with the teacher, I asked about, you guessed it, floor wax. Norman was gracious, gave me the lowdown on what to use, and that was that.

And the next morning, suddenly out of nowhere, came the replay of this comically serious retreat interchange. It was then necessary for the retreat manager to lose it entirely on the back porch of the retreat lodge, laughing until tears rolled down my cheeks, tailing off and then starting all over again. I was fairly well gone with hilarity for about 15 minutes. My husband came to check on me, to make sure I didn't need to get shipped off for observation. And the gift of this: I have not been able to take myself perfectly seriously almost ever again since that moment. What a treasure!

White Mountain Sangha will be offering a weekend retreat late this fall. Why not consider coming, to laugh or cry, to walk and eat and relax with absolutely no agenda, to sit still and see what happens?

I hope to see you there. Don't forget to admire the shiny floors.