Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Zen Days

I know next to nothing about Zen. I've heard a wonderful program twice on Speaking of Faith with Thich Nhat Hahn, a Vietnamese Zen master, and I've read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance once and very recently I've read Zen Shorts with my children. This is the extent of my Zen teaching.

But I'm finding for this time in my life, there's at least one practice that I understand from those small teachings to be particularly useful; to be mindful.

"Take the hand of a child," Master Hahn advices in one of his works to help understand mindfulness. I had always thought that Zen required solitude and quiet, so it was a real release to have a teacher remove this obstacle from my path - because my children are rarely quiet.

Of course, I'm paraphrasing Master Hahn liberally here (and a little out of my ignorance), but I've found this teaching so helpful in transitioning between the stresses of work and the challenges of home life that I think even my limited understanding has value.

"Daddy, Daddy, Daddy, Daddy, Daddy," my children can go on and on.

At the end of a day filled with problems and conflicts, the drumming of their needs can really grate against my angst and fears for what I did not accomplish that day.

I find at these moments I have two choices: to frustrate over what I can't do or to take their hand.

"Story time!" I say when I can muster the mindfulness to make the right choice. Sometimes it takes a while of me making the wrong choice before I can do this (tonight it took 45 minutes of muttering to myself before I said it), and sometimes the right choice does not come at all, but it's always a help when I get there.

"The Fat Cat Sat on the Mat, Mr. Pine's Purple House, In the Night Kitchen," it really doesn't matter what they want to hear that night.

I put my older child on one side and the smaller one in my lap and we read. We read and I listen to the sound of their little voices asking questions, or laughing, or just feel the rise and fall of their soft, unconstrained breathing.

We read I begin to feel the rise and fall of my own breath again, and I relax my face and shoulders, and I feel like a bird or a rabbit or a bear must feel when it's safely tucked into it's nest or warren or cave. I feel like I can let the world be for a while.

We read and the rest of the night seems to take care of itself. The kids calm down, stop clinging and go to bed. I calm down and stop clinging to the things that went wrong and relax - cherry blossoms on a soft breeze when I stop worrying and attend to those little souls.

I know next to nothing about Zen. I hope to learn more some day, but in the mean time, the little I know seems to help more than a little.

Thank you Master Hahn.

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