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    Run For Your Life, Black Hockey Jesus!
    « And This Is You | Main | Teachers »

    Why I'm A Bad Zen Buddhist, Or Maybe A Good One, Depending On How One Defines Presence

    For Karen Maezen Miller


    Everything, all of it, rises with music. The twinkling toy music of the ice cream truck. July rises and the kids leave the front door open, sprinting in flip-flops, screaming to hurry and for money. You find a couple bucks, scrape the change off your desk, and hope like hell that the truck has fudge bomb pops. Because if you don t get a fudge bomb pop today, right now, you will melt. You will melt into an insubstantial puddle of selflessness. The sun - it wants to kill you and your only defense today is a fudge bomb pop. However, the ice cream truck is out of fudge bomb pops. Motherfucker. Life is suffering. But there are ice cream sandwiches and faith. The kids are smiling. The ice cream is cold and refreshing, finding its meaning in relation to the sweltering sun because, here, on the white sidewalk, extremes aren't opposed - they embrace - arising together with the twinkling toy music of the ice cream truck.

    And everything rises with the sirens. The whining wail of the cops on your tail. The night rises, strobing in blue and red and you can t pull over because of all your outstanding warrants. There's no escape, you think, and you consider driving off a bridge. But that's no escape either, you suspect. Where could you possibly go? As you accelerate and another cop joins the chase, your racing mind slows way down - nearly stops - and memories fall like calm raindrops. You remember the house you were born in. You meander through all your old homes and rooms. Houses. Apartments. Long forgotten identities. Was that you? The 19-year-old dishwasher at the Italian restaurant? You don t know. You can't be sure. Because your long life of alternating crimes and triumphs has left you with only one certain maxim to live by: keep... moving.


    I had the pleasure, last Sunday, of spending a day at the Hazy Moon Zen Center in Los Angeles, for an introduction to Zen Buddhism s approach to various practices: sitting, walking, bowing, chanting, eating - even washing dishes - all led by the incomparable Karen Maezen Miller and her fellow priest, Gendo.

    I confess to being a Zen dabbler, it being one node in a constellation of many connected interests that reflect and inform one another: Nietzsche, Heidegger, the post-Jungian psychology of James Hillman, Bob Dylan, Deep Ecology, all the arts of abstraction with an emphasis on Dada, Shamanism, the New Physics, Rimbaud, addiction, insanity, death, and Gary Snyder. I also dig The Mountain Goats like nobody's business.

    But Sunday, somewhere between watching Gendo bow and listening to Maezen speak, I slipped through a crack of being a Zen dabbler to being completely lit on fire. I won t tell you the secrets Karen Maezen Miller told me. It wouldn't mean the same thing to you and if your path leads to her, she's there to be heard. I will tell you that she is elegant in both movement and speech, she's tiny and yet erupts with incisive authority, she laughs like a song, and she has great feet.

    She gave a long talk to close out the day. She spoke to me so directly that I couldn't maintain her gaze and I frequently hid my face behind my arm to smudge off tears without (hopefully) getting caught. And because it was a beautiful day in Los Angeles, the windows were thrown open and there arose a moment when her speech, like knitting, weaved in between the sounds of an ice cream truck's music and police sirens. But she wasn't disturbed and, even though they carried me away like a bad Zen Buddhist, they didn t disturb me either.

    Because there's always ice cream and jail and a Zen priest in the middle. We arise together. We're all in this together.

    Reader Comments (13)


    March 15, 2011 at 10:55 PM | Unregistered Commenteramy.leblanc

    I love it. I love fluid thoughts that waft a good story, truth or fiction. Thank you for sharing. Beautiful.

    March 15, 2011 at 11:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterCorinna

    I believe every word.

    March 16, 2011 at 2:17 AM | Unregistered CommenterBackpacking Dad

    We are.

    I learnt how to be in the moment at my very first rehab. I was 24 and washing the dishes, and this guy Eli came up to me and asked me if I was "really, like, just washing the dishes in that moment; and not thinking or worrying about anything else." It was mindblowing for me. Eli and I ended up fucking in his bed the next day, and a staff member busted us but never dobbed us in. Eli told me he was a male hooker. For males. I will never forget him.

    These days I own a stainless steel dishwasher. That makes me feel sad and hollow. Last time I spied on Eli on facebook he was still drinking. I can't see his eyes properly to see if he's ok. My little zen-bringer.

    March 16, 2011 at 4:36 AM | Unregistered Commenteredenland

    I'm glad you had a chance to hear that song.

    March 16, 2011 at 4:42 AM | Unregistered Commentersweetsalty kate

    Was Jay-Z featured in all this? I would hope so.

    March 16, 2011 at 5:53 AM | Unregistered Commentermuskrat

    so glad you were able to spend a day at hazy moon. i read one of her books. i'm picking up my meditation practice again. began it during yoga teacher training -- which i finished just a month ago and promptly started dropping all the stuff i'd learned. loser. i don't know. it works. meditation freaking works like nothing else. i'd like to learn more about the zen/buddhist stuff. happy for you. that you had that day. that it will carry through to others.

    March 16, 2011 at 6:07 AM | Unregistered CommenterSlow Panic

    we never had ice cream trucks here when i was a kid. cops, yeh. but i heard you anyway. something rose.

    March 16, 2011 at 6:20 AM | Unregistered CommenterBon

    I very much enjoyed this.

    March 16, 2011 at 12:48 PM | Unregistered CommenterAmelia

    How funny we are.
    I went to church this past Sunday for the first time in years. Not the stodgy, Roman Catholic church of my upbringing, but a non denominational sort of one, with Bach and meditation all rolled into one.
    There must have been something goin' round...
    Yay us. Yay you!

    March 17, 2011 at 2:19 PM | Unregistered Commentersara

    Ice cream truck music sends chills down my spine.

    March 17, 2011 at 11:18 PM | Unregistered Commenterbeta dad

    I live for those moments of connectedness~when someone who is speaking to many speaks instead directly to me.

    March 20, 2011 at 7:40 PM | Unregistered CommenterLibraryGirl62

    perhaps the only way to be and want to be --

    March 20, 2011 at 8:32 PM | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth

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