This was one of those weeks of nothing is going to go quite as planned, and yet...
Early in the week, I learned that a dear friend died. This man, who lived at a sister temple in New Mexico, had been a source of great encouragement, warmth and humility for me. 4 years ago when I began the practice of Okesa, or sewing the Buddha's robe as is worn by Soto priests, his humor and humble dedication really shone a lamp upon the truth of zen practice and why we pursue it; and he remained as much through the years since then. I had always assumed I would be able to return to my heart-home temple to practice with my friend, and while I am glad for his passage out of the suffering of his illness, I am sad that the possibility I'd hoped for is gone.
So that was a big not-planned-and-yet-somehow-fated moment; it was odd, but it felt right-- certainly not unexpected, but strangely shocking all the same to lose a friend.
Smaller moments persisted in the theme of unplanned-yet-fated, such as leaving the house way past the time I'd intended, but meeting a new neighbor because of it. Finally, this morning I had intended to arrive at the Center with enough time to cut fresh flowers for a ceremony to honor my friend's passing, but my son's teeth had other plans for me. My baby awoke much earlier than usual with a high fever from teething pain and a need to be held. So as my husband left for work with instructions to tape a note on the door for our sangha, I maintained mama-zazen posture on the couch, where my child slept, half-nursing, for two hours straight.
As it was, the day flew and my boy felt better eventually, and so after dinner my little family gathered at our family altar, and there, without too much ceremony and still covered with dirt from the day's gardening, we lit a candle, offered incense, and chanted the Heart Sutra for our dear one.
And I can honestly say, this was the first occasion where I've had to chant to a beat as offered by a 2-year-old, where the usual rhythms of the chant were interrupted by our laughter as the child took off with our mokugyo, or joined in with a rung bell at the "wrong" time... And, it was brilliant. It was quite possibly the most heart-felt Heart Sutra I've ever offered.
At the end of it, we had our little son ring the large bell 3 times as we bowed in offering to Buddha, to Dharma and to Sangha. It was his first introduction to Buddhist ceremony, and he was so very happy to see that his parents were so pleased with his "ringing".
That is the truth of this path with heart, as my friend taught me not so long ago: meeting each moment not as you plan to meet it, or think you might meet it someday, but directly, honestly and humbly as you are, now. The gifts that ring out from that kind of meeting are innumerable, and eternal.
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