Monday, August 28, 2006

Just Eat

A little introductory note: I've noticed in my stats and on Bloglines that there are suddenly a whole lot of new readers. Welcome! I'm pleased as punch that you're here. I just want to warn you that this is not a knitting-only blog. I often veer into other topics that interest me. Chalk it up to the male fear of commitment.

One of my favorite Zen stories is about two novice monks from long ago who were discussing the relative merits of their teachers.

The first said, "My teacher can do amazing things. He can stand on one side of a river with a brush, while an assistant stands on the other side of the river with a sheet of paper. As he moves the brush through the air, writing appears on the paper."

The second said, "Interesting. My teacher can also do amazing things. For example, when he eats, he eats. And when he sleeps, he sleeps."

To which the first monk replied, "Yo' mama."

The first time I read this (and the second, and third, and fourth–it's a Buddhism Greatest Hit) I thought I understood it. When you sit down to eat, pay attention to your food and to eating. Do not distract yourself with thoughts of other meals, of a past you can't change, of a future that doesn't exist. When you lie down to sleep, let go of the day's worries and don't invent new ones for tomorrow. Just sleep.

Sounds rather impossible; but okay, fine. Great. Got it. What's next?

Well, I didn't get it. As popular as stories are in Zen teaching, Zen isn't about words. It's about experiencing things directly, yourself. You can't get that out of books.

Me, I love books. I love books the way that Fafnir, the dragon in Siegfried, was rather fond of treasure. Books have been my greatest, sometimes I think my only, teachers. So when I've been told that reading books on Buddhism isn't going to get me anywhere, I've nodded and said, yes yes. And then I've gone out and bought another book.

Time for an attitude adjustment.

Sunday was a great big helping of Direct Experience. Our center held "zazenkai"–a full day of meditation. This was my first time. Here's the schedule:
  • 7 am-10 am: zazen (seated meditation) and kinhin (walking meditation)
  • 11-noon: teisho (lesson)
  • noon-12:45: lunch
  • 12:45-2 pm: zazen and kinhin
I love zazen, but that's a whole lot of sitting still. By the time teisho was over I was definitely ready for lunch. I imagined kicking back around the big table with the other Zennies and comparing which parts of our bodies had gone numb and might very well fall off.

Instead, I was shown in silence that I was to help myself to the soup, rice, fruit, and crackers in the kitchen and then take a seat in a chair in the living room. And just as in the zendo, the seats were arranged to face the walls.*

There I was, after five hours of not talking, being sent to eat soup and crackers while looking at nothing and speaking to nobody. For just a second I considered slipping out of my robes and into my clothes, and running away into the street shouting at the top of my lungs.

Instead, I sank dutifully into a chair by the fireplace. There's a small bronze Buddha on the mantel. I looked at it and thought, "2,500 years ago you had a bright idea under a tree, so now I'm sitting here in Chicago dressed like Obi-Wan Kenobi having lunch with a wall."

I took a spoonful of soup and my eyes rolled back in my head. The taste was incredible. It didn't make sense, though. This was pretty plain stuff. Broth, vegetables. But it blew my mind. So did the cracker when I bit it.

I kept eating, trying to get a grip on the sensations rocking my head, and then I realized this was possibly the first meal of my entire life in which I was permitted–compelled, really–to just eat. No checking e-mail, or making calls, or dishing friends not present. It was just me and the soup.

The word that sprang to mind was luxury. I've never enjoyed any meal so much, not even dinner on the Minerva II, eating five French courses while watching the sun set over the Aegean. It felt unspeakably indulgent. I stretched out my bare toes and sighed, which in the hushed room sounded like a car alarm.


And what?

I don't know. There's no pat conclusion here. No specific lesson learned. I'm not going to start declining dinner invitations so that I can have tete-à-tetes** with a sheet of plasterboard. I do feel that I've been shown something interesting. I might never have seen it if it weren't for practice.

Reason enough to keep practicing. (Plus I get to wear cool robes. I look pretty darn cute in the robes.)

* In the Soto Zen tradition, which I practice, we meditate with our eyes open, facing the wall. It's an homage to the Zen ancestor Bodhidharma, who is said to have reached enlightenment after meditating for years while facing the wall of a cave in China.

**Where the hell is the circumflex on this keyboard?


Lizzie said...

What a great post.

I've only done one day long sitting, and it was hard. I wish I liked zazen. I know the answer to not liking zazen more zazen.


Cynthia said...

Yo mamma!

Aidan said...

Please forgive me, my dear, dear friend, but I can't get the picture of you in robes out of my head...I keep seeing Ben Kingsley and wanting to call you Ghandi-ji.

Anonymous said...

The things I learn, while reading your blog.

junior_goddess said...

Dearest Franklin-

It was Sheep on a Plane posted in several areas that made me come look. The Yarnie Angels made me smile, but your bio made me come back. I spent a lot of time in the USAF, and have a sneaking suspicion your high school yearbook may have pictures of my brother-in-law (look for Father Nathan).

Now you are creeping me out-because if you tell me you went to Soka Gakkai, I will sit down in complete wonder, because I spent eons chanting (in Chicago) there as a kid. Your Buddah looks like a statue at Kamakura.

Are you my secret cousin???

Cheryl said...

and a good time was had by all......

On a Mac, hold down Opt and i (lowercase i) while typing the letter to create characters with circumflex accent marks.

Elizabeth said...

I bet you look adorable in the robes.

I can't clear my mind for 3 seconds. But I do love sitting in silence.

Sean said...

I am de-lurking to say that I appreciate the fact that your blog isn't 100% knitting. It's nice to mix things up, I think.

I loved the picture from New Hope. I lived in Princeton, NJ for years, and I always enjoyed visiting New Hope.

Love the blog!

Jenn said...

When I first started studying with my monk, I was always asking him for reading lists. Though he checked out the new additions to my bookshelf on his visits, he never recommended which ones I should read first. He did, though, suggest that I should rent the movie "The Razor's Edge" with Bill Murray. I think you'll get the point he wanted me to get too.

TheAmpuT said...

Twice now, I have gone out into the wilderness alone (but supervised) as a part of a spiritual quest type of thing. I went for 4 days, and fasted on water and tea only. Upon my return, both times, my teacher welcomed me back wtih a first meal of one raisin. One. I've never tasted anything else like it. Being in the moment has a flavor all of its own.

And I love that your blog is diverse, btw. ~bonnie

Sean said...

I saw Franklin in the robes...and as cute as he is in street clothes, you have no idea. Is it wrong to lust after Franklin in Budhist robes?

In all seriousness, I loved your post. I loved hearing about this experience. Thank you for sharing it.

Rachel H said...

Remember this feeling, petal. You'll need it when Dolores comes home...

Seriously though, what an amazing thing to achieve such stillness that a simple soup would affect you so greatly. I envy you that.

ForestBird said...

Even when you don't talk about knitting, you are talking about knitting.

Many a year ago I was initiated into Transcendental Meditation. I received my mantra from Maharishi Mahesh Yogi himself, but I was only 13 and didn't know the honor I was receiving. I continued my meditations for 6 years thereafter. Somehow I stopped. But I really didn't, I think.

A few months ago a friend from that time told me that after a (unspecified) length of time of this practice of meditation, it becomes part of you and you are meditating all the time whether you know it or not.

But a warning: the perpetuation of the level of awareness like you experienced at lunch, what I imagine monks must experience or aspire to, can be harrowing. From what I hear it can make you crazy. But in the way that made ancient Indian cultures revere the wandering crazy person, and take him in for the night and feed him. They respected the crazy person's visions, even if they didn't always understand.

But I'm not crazy and these men in the white coats who take care of me agree.

ann said...

For the circumflex, on a Mac (which is far superior to all other machines - ahem!) opt-i then the vowel you want.
Or, edit special characters and pick the one you want. Both methods will sometimes bite the dust if the program you are transferring to on the web strips upper unicode or ascii codes. On a PC it depends on whether you are running an Ascii or Windows app - the circumflex letters are somewhere up in the 140s, I think - try alt-140 and see what happens - or if the web is stripping them, you may have to resort to HTML coding them. If memory serves, a circumflex is &(vowel)circ; the & and the ; should code the mark, and substitute the real vowel for the (vowel) - no parens.

Not that I'm a computer geek....

Lucy said...

Made me laugh out loud, twice! I'm sending this to all my Zen friends!

Konchog said...

When you knit, just knit.

kathy in juneau said...

Clearly, we don't come just for the knitting..

Anonymous said...

I came for the knitting, but I stayed for the writing. Thank you! Helena

Mindy said...

Oops, I read this while eating...

Kathleen said...


(How sad that I have this memorized. What can I say, I maintain a bilingual English/French website for a living.)

Lee Ann said...

Thanks for the visual, dude.

(It's not helping to make me a calmer person, though...)

Between you and Konchog, I swear, I'm going to improve somehow, but I have a feeling I'll lose an entire dish set in the process.

LaurieM said...

Congratulations! I'm really happy for you. That is a signifigant milestone.

Ted said...

What I'm curious about is, when you're at one of these all-day meditation gigs, if you fall sleep, does someone come along and wake you up, or do they ignore you when you fall over and snore (gently).

This is a serious question.

Anonymous said...

Delurking to offer a warning:

A few years ago my husband became a member of the same Zen Center. The sensei is lovely but don't get in a car with him!

Do trust in his palate, we never had a bad meal following his recommendations.


Elisa said...

I came here through a reference on Knittyboards, and the Sheep on a Plane sucked me in, I do admit. As well as the remake of the Charlie's Angels opening. Pure fabulousness.

Knitting or not, I'm enthralled. In fact, I'm most enthralled with those who are obviously not just knitbloggers.

MrsFife said...

Thank you for the welcome! I've been lurking for a few weeks now (can't remember where I came from), but I'm thrilled to have learnt a new word.

Circumflex rules! (or ceiwxal, as Blogger's word verification has it)

Ev said...

I'm not a new reader (I've been reading since the first grade... couldn't resist, sorry), just a new blogliner... is that word? I've been enjoying your blog for a few months now and even though it's not all knitting, your writing is entertaining and a heck of a lot of fun to read. I don't post often, to any blog, but decided I should come out of lurkdom after your welcoming comment. Greetings from Kelowna, BC

doodah! said...

I guess I'll de-lurk too. I've been a fan for 8 months, and tell everyone I know to come here. (So far, they all love you.)

I don't knit*, but your descriptions make me want to. I come here every day because your words alternately move my heart deeply, make me (re)think, or make me laugh so hard I shoot my drink out my nose.

* I (kind of) crochet (badly), using stuff that you wouldn't even deign to call yarn.

Mel said...

Love the zen story. And the "yo' mama" comment, is that from one of Bodhidharma's teachings? :-)

Back when I lived in NC, I always had intentions of trying to attend the soto zen center outside Chapel Hill, but you know what they say about good intentions. I've found out the UU church in Portsmouth has a weekly meditation group, so I'm trying to find out more about that now.

persones llanes said...

For a minute there I thought you were channeling Tom Robbins. Yo mamma!

How exciting to have an experience like that. It's amazing all the sensations we don't even realize we're having every day!

MonicaPDX said...

Is it too terribly weird to say I've never been interested in meditation of any kind... Yet I can sort of understand the perfect immersion from years of experience in having major migraines?? ::wry grin:: Not the ideal way to do it, admittedly. But after a couple days or a week of unrelenting pain, you can't sleep, you can't move, you can't get up, you can't escape it in any way...there's nothing you can do but just be it. When it finally leaves, for a while the experience of the pain being gone is simply all-encompassing.

Of course, you can just be when you're knitting, or spinning, or writing, or so into a book that you totally lose track of the rest of the world. I prefer those methods to the migraines. ;)

(ibiglai? I swear, some of these verfications would make great alien names.)

marylee said...

what a splendid gift! Thanks for passing it around.

DK said...

I came across this piece this morning in an article on about the girl in Austria who was locked in a tiny room for eight years:

"Police images of the windowless basement cell where Kampusch was kept showed the room contained, among other things, books, clothes, a television, a bed, a toilet and a sink. Investigators say she also was allowed to listen to the radio and watch some videos, and with the help of a book, taught herself how to knit."

That struck me, and for some reason, it resonated with this post. Because there is something very meditative about knitting, very powerful, something comforting and basic and connecting. Have you ever read the book The Knitting Way? I forget who wrote it, but I could look it up. It's very zen. I think you'd like it.


Pearl said...

What an interesting experience.

Riding out the immediate is wonderful, (especially if you can do it in clothes you look cute in. ;) )

datatech57 said...

I recently read your 100 things to know about you. Listening to the radio this morning, at our local classical station, they mentioned their vocal music internet radio station, and I thought, "Gee, Franklin might like this." Then, they said that they were going to subscription only starting on September 1st. Dang. Well, anyway, you might like it:

I started reading your blog because Stephanie McPhee mentioned you on her blog. And now I have my own blog!


Ghislaine said...

I'm one of the new visitors showing up on your stats. Someone on the chat board posted a link last week and in just a few days you have become a favourite!

You can get the "ê" by using the Alt+136 key combination (numbers on the numeric pad, not the regular numbers on the keyboard).

If you set your keyboard to the French language configuration, the circumflex is the "[" key - you use it first and then type the letter.

Ghislaine, Vancouver, B.C.

Marianne B said...

Minerva II??? Were you the young man dressed in a beutiful robe, sitting at the table by the Pool Deck Bar and knitting? June 2nd onwards? My goodness - what a smallish world as I just by chance clicked on to your (wonderful) blog. another life, this could have been the start of something beautiful....but we will always have Valetta Harbour in the sunset!

Love from Marianne - Scottish Borders

turtlegirl76 said...

Heh - I read it as "Yo Yo Ma" at first.

My favorite quote out of the Little Zen Companion was "What happens to the hole when the cheese is gone?"

DAWN said...

Wow, that was brilliant! I give you such credit for taking the steps to meditate for an entire day--I'm lucky to get my 20 minutes in a few times a week.

Anonymous said...

You're wealth of topics and humor are what keep me coming back. Knitting or no knitting I relish every word.

Jon said...

And he does look like Obi Wan in the robes. I've seen it.

OK, well, he also does look like Ben Kingsley but he hates that analogy.

pacalaga said...

I love those experiences when food is SO. GOOD. Like when you're completely deeply hungry and you take that first bite, and even though it's PB&J, it's the best you've ever tasted.
And there is no accent on our American-centric keyboard. You gotta use the system tools and select a pre-accented letter from the Character Map.

Lucia said...

And it took me so long to learn to multitask...

David said...

Your keyboard isn't circumflexed? That's hot.

marie in florida said...

dearest franklin:
i had to sit down and think about this for awhile. the luxury you experienced was the luxury of time. time to sit, time to think, time to just eat. i've been reading about buddhism since i was 12, a very long time. ...long ...time...
somewhere along the reading way i was reminded to thank the ten thousand farmers, (some buddhist make long lists LOL) i've been reminded to pray thanks when i take out garbage too. that makes sense, specially here in a country where we have more than we really need.
you've had a small awakening my friend, i'm happy for ya and that guy who plays the cello, yo yo mama.
p.s. if you want a very enjoyable lesson in dharma; watch the movie "the cup", it's only on tape i think, but it is very fun.

LindaD said...

Hi Franklin,
I'm de-lurking too, I found your blog on the day you posted instructions how to use soap, we both laughed until we cried. Thanks, BTW, has Delores been on holidays, we haven't seen much of her over the summer.
Us in Airdrie, Alberta

FiberQat said...

Circumflex....circumflex....hmm....never ran across one of those....oh it's a CARET! Duh....

It works here: ê

May you continue to find moments of clarity. My meditation is stockinette in the round. Keeps me calm during long waits.

Ted said...

So, I repeat: what happens to you if you fall asleep when you're meditating?

nadine said...

So, now that you've found your Circumflex - - are you practicing ?

Moby Knit said...

The jolly Jesuits say, "Age quod agis"--Do what you are doing. Yo.

Allen said...

Hey, there's a lot of effective info here!
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cara mengobati wasir dalam said...

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Lukman - said...

Wasir atau ambeien adalah penyakit yang terjadi pada bagian anus, jenis wasir atau ambeien sendiri ada dua yaitu wasir atau ambeien dalam dan wasir atau ambeien luar. Dalam penangananya sendiri wasir atau ambeien dapat disembuhkan dengan dua jalan yaitu pengobatan medis dan pengobatan non medis atau pengobatan alternatif. Pengobatan alternatif disini salah satu pilihanya adalah dengan menggunakan tanaman herbal atau dengan ramuan tradisional. Ambeclear dan Salep Salwa adalah hasil pengolahan tanaman herbal daun ungu, kunyit putih, dan mahkota dewa yang telah terbukti ampuh mengatasi wasir atau ambeien baik wasir stadium satu, stadium dua, stadium tiga maupun stadium akhir atau stadium empat. Wasir berdarah, wasir yang telah kronis, semua dapat diatasi dengan menggunakan obat ini selain ampuh obat ini juga aman dan tidak menimbulkan efek samping apapun bagi penggunanya sehingga obat ambeclear ini aman dikonsumsi oleh penderita wasir yang sedang hamil maupun menyusui.