Friday, July 10, 2009

Patience, miso soup, bandits, and doubt

It’s midsummer. I’m nearly halfway between the last day of school in June and the first day coming in August.

I'm trying to rest and touch stillness in my shimmering, tender and quivering center.

I wish to let the well of patience recharge. To watch the inhale. To notice the exhale.

Whatever patience might seep in, I intend to share generously with next year's kids. Kindergartens are so full of suffering. Joy, too, but lots of suffering gets mixed in. Patience is needed.

For breakfast, aged Chinese Pu-erh tea and miso soup eaten slowly using chopsticks. I lift out—one by one—chopped pieces of boy choy, onion, carrots, and tofu. I chew each piece individually, and then slurp the broth, like I learned in Japan. Breakfast like this can last 45 minutes.

After breakfast—household chores in slow motion. Do my laundry and hang it out in the soft morning sun.

I wash last night’s dishes enjoying the gentle warmth of the water and the light grapefruit fragrance of the biodegradable dishwashing liquid.

As I washed the dishes, I tried to stay with the dishes in my hands. But my mind wandered. That's what minds do.

I thought about doubt and faith.

What is great doubt, if not great faith in skepticism?

What is great faith, if not great doubt in our ability to accept uncertainty?

Doubt and faith appear as two sides of the same coin. Great doubt is great faith. I'm not sure if that's so, but it seem so. Back to the sudsy bowl in my hands...

Wandering mind again. I also thought about my morning reading from the Dharma. The Buddha demanded that his students to let go of their cherished beliefs. Like Jesus, the Buddha told stories to teach.

The Buddha told a story to his monks:

A young widower was devoted to his little son. But while he was away on business, the whole village was burned to the ground by bandits, who took away the little boy.

When the father returned and found only charred ruins, he was brokenhearted. He mistook the charred remains of an infant as his own child, so he organized a cremation, collected the ashes, and carried them always in a special bag.

Years later, his real son managed to escape from the bandits and found his way back to his old home. His father had rebuilt the house. When the boy arrived late one night and knocked on the door, his father called, “Who is there?”

“It is I, your son. Please let me in.”

The father, still carrying the bag of ashes and hopelessly sad thought this must be some wretched boy making fun of him and he shouted, “Go away!”

The boy knocked and called again and again, but the father always made the same response. At last the boy left, never to come back again.

After the Buddha had told this story he added, “If you cling to an idea as unalterable truth, then when the truth does come in person and knock at your door, you will not be able to open the door and accept it.”

As I gently rubbed my sponge on the dishes to clean them, I took care to notice their fragility, their proneness to being chipped, nicked, cracked, and broken. A moment’s carelessness, and they could shatter.

My fragile dishes resemble my faith: not broken now, and serving me well this morning.


Margaret Pangert said...

That was beautifully written, Dan. I saw on Meri's blog ( today, "Sometimes all it takes is a fresh perspective." Remember the story about the swami on one side of the river and a run-down prostitute stationed on the other side? She felt so elevated just seeing him there swathed in white and praying while he was annoyed that someone so disgusting had to be across from him? a fresh perspective/opposites are the same.

Dan Gurney said...

Thank you, Margaret.

Your swami story reminds me of the old saying,

"When a saint looks at a sinner, he sees a saint.

When a sinner sees a saint, he sees a sinner."

steven said...

dan thanks for this. i'm in-between end-of-june and beginning-of-september thinking for my grade sixes. in little pieces i'm reassembling my relationship with all that i value. the school year and all its accoutrements and expectations tend to knock much of that askew!! your valuing of the moments of eating, thinking, and being are ultimately reminding for me. i'm watching my children also following a similar passage as they become themselves again after giving so much up to acting. a lot of relational work is tied into judgement of ourselves and others. it's empty. it's easy but it's empty. lovely writing dan. thanks. steven

Delwyn said...

Hello Dan

Yes, your lovely thoughtful slow writing this morning was just like a meditation to read, so while you described your learning process and your mulling over dichotomies we too have been taken on a peaceful journey... slow eating, slow thinking, slow clearing up, slow to build beliefs into concrete blocks, slow appreciation, slow understandings and whether you intended it or not your writing of the morning reminded me that faith is not a matter of the mind, a cold concept, it is an action - a verb - the way we live our lives...we can live in faith or in doubt...and usually in a mix of both ...where faith holds the lantern and doubt trails behind...

Sarah Lulu said...

Dan, hello again.

I enjoyed that story so much and I've not heard it before. I hope that I carry it always in my mind.

Sarah Lulu

Dan Gurney said...

Steven, thank you! So you teach sixth grade? I taught sixth grade during the years my own children were in kindergarten. Once they were clear of kindergarten, I returned. I missed singing and the freshness of the five year old mind. Yes, I school year, once it gets rolling can pull you off center. That's why I'm grateful for the chance to recalibrate each summer.

Dan Gurney said...

Delwyn, thanks for this observation. Our English language loves to turn actions (verbs) into nouns. Faith and doubt are good examples of this confusing transformation, just as you say. I like your image of faith holding a lantern as doubt trails behind.

Thank you for your thoughtful comments!

Dan Gurney said...

Sarah Lulu, welcome back. I missed you. I'm glad that you enjoyed the story. May it help many of us answer the door when our son knocks.

rur said...

I just stumbled upon your blog.
It's beautiful and profound.

Dan Gurney said...

Rur, I'm very pleased that you've found something beautiful and profound here. It makes me very happy to know that, and grateful that you took a moment to say so. Best to you.