via Zen Koan.
Does everyone have someone they can reach out to with whom they play no roles, someone who answers the call when the crying out is about to burst through, someone who can listen but not judge? Does everyone have this person except me?
Why do I even ask this? The question started with a cup of green tea, a discussion of a wilderness adventure–not mine–and my meditation teacher simply asking: Who do you call when you feel tears of exhaustion or fear or longing for what never was boiling up inside you ready to push the lid off the pan of sanity and spill out? I thought I could answer but then…
Nothing came. I could think of no one with whom I don’t fulfill a role, know the expectations held, the assumptions made. Oh, I suppose I could have taken the glib way out and said “the cats.” But even they have roles for me: food lady; nighttime body heat provider; lap in a storm. I have many, many supportive people around me, supportive cats, too, but no one off stage. I found myself sitting looking blankly at him, rather the way the turkeys inhabiting the neighborhood look at me if I request use of my driveway when they are sunning.
His return gaze was equally blank. “You don’t have someone?” As generous as he is with his time and tea, he spoke with an “are you just trying to get sympathy” impatience. “No, no, I don’t think I do.” Both of us deftly moved the conversation back to the new Dancing Shiva statue he had bought.
And I was left only wondering whether everyone else knew the answer to his question. Even the Shiva, who dances only because she has one foot solidly planted on a small body below her, dances because she is grounded; even she seems to know.
I think I’ll pretend this was another koan.
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.