The Unanticipated Results of Practice

In Ch’an they call it “cultivation,” but I came out of a Japanese school several years ago–“cultivation” is okay; “practice” is fine, too. It doesn’t just involve bottom-on-cushion-control-your-thoughts. What you learn seeps out into real life.

But let’s look at energy–the energy of every day things. You learn in class that everything has a ripple effect; an impact. You begin class by thinking, Not much I do makes a whole lot of difference. Then you transition into believing the opposite.* You don’t necessarily avoid “idle talk” but you watch yourself doing it a lot more. You listen and observe–that’s one fruit of cultivation or practice.

One cold night this past Winter, after reading, rather than getting up and getting an additional blanket, I wrapped myself in my fuzzy white bathrobe & settled down to sleep. There had been intermittent thunder in the distance, but no rain. Like most robes, mine has inside & outside ties, and in the pitch blackness of 1am I peered under the covers, holding one silk ribbon and looking for the other. In the dark I saw flashes of light. Of course–hoof beats anticipating horses rather than zebras!–I got up & looked out the window, listening carefully. Could some flash of lightening have come in? Dead quiet. I experimented. Yep, flashes of cold light coming right from those white silk ribbons, and I’m thinking: How long have I owned this robe? and How long has this been going on–beneath the level of my perception? Probably the whole time! Who knows how much energy shoots off stuff without us even noticing…all day long?

Several months later I’m doing some major clean up outside the Zen Center, and I see a golf ball caught in the corner of a garden bed: It’s been there for a week or so, all of us walking past that little white object that’s doing no harm to anybody. Suddenly I’m thinking: No. This is out of place, and so full of kinetic energy that someone will pick it up & heave it through one of these big windows. Now I was seeing the potential, not the visible. Something that may or might occur. I put the ball in my cart and later threw it in the dumpster. What was the difference between that ball & the ordinary rocks & pebbles all over the place? It was out of its context.

Why am I including this stuff? I don’t know. It just seems one of the subtle changes of thinking brought about by practice.

*Not to the extent that, to quote an Hispanic teen boy on the radio yesterday “One vote can change an election!” Yeah. Right.

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