The small pond is clear, not blue-sky clear but the grey-white clouds of winter clear, so I see deep into the water with nothing reflecting back at me, not my face, not the small trees surrounding the pond, just the water. And the stone at the bottom. This is my stone, the one I threw in last spring as an honor to the koan I was given: All you desire and want from life is contained in a stone at the bottom of a pond. How do you retrieve it without getting wet?
I’ve revisited the koan many times but this is the first time I have revisited the pond and the stone. Has the stone changed? When I threw it in, the light gray of dry stone bloomed into gradations of grays and browns and greens of wet stone. But what would it look like now? Surely, what I believe the stone to contain has changed; those original imagined desires of the perfection of life are not the desires of today. Change comes to all. So I wonder whether my stone will somehow reflect that. Will it now have mud dulling the tones of green and gray? Or will the pond have cleansed it even more, so that it shimmers jewel-like in the clear winter-white water?
And most of all, will I still want the stone. And will I still be faced with the puzzle presented in the koan: how do I retrieve it without getting wet?
As I watch the solid and quiet rock drawing no breath at the bottom of the pond, far beyond my reach, my own breath catches in the winter air. I feel my toes ache, snow sinking through the lining of my boot; my fingers tighten as if palsied, thinking of the icy water that would grip my hand if I reached for the stone. Without getting wet. Without getting wet. There is no way to retrieve it without getting wet.
Unless, as I do when I use the mantra, I see that I am both “I,” the physical body that exists with and within the world. And “not I,” the ego-less detachment of spirit and breath. To reach the stone is to not to reach for the stone but to detach from the ego and let the stone come to me if it so chooses.
I look into the water once more. The stone is still the stone, just as it was when I threw it into the pond. And I am still I…and not I.