Thursday, March 15, 2012

A tten shon. Confessions of a “first-class slob.”

Click on collage to enlarge.
A young Zen student was given the job of arranging flowers for the various altars in the temple. He was a very serious sort of young man and was concerned about doing a proper job. There may also have been a bit of vanity involved. “Flowers no higher than the statue’s eye. Check. Odd number of flowers in the vase. Check. No thorns or spiky flowers. Check. No all-white arrangements except for funerals. Check.” As he was working, an older monk came into the room, watched for a moment and asked, “Do you want to know how to make a perfect arrangement for the altar?” “Oh, yes!” said the youngster. “Well,” said the monk, “You take a bunch of flowers, put them in a vase, step back and say ‘That’s perfect!’”

I’m acutely aware these days how poor my attention has been. Yesterday I spend 15 minutes looking for a glass of juice that I had finished earlier and even washed the glass. When I saw the glass in the dish rack I finally figured it out.

Saturday I helped someone set up for tea ceremony. I asked, after altering the wiring on the heater, if it was all working. The tea teacher saw a light on the heat controller and said “yes.” I should have checked the heater itself, which wasn’t heating.

I bought some wiper blades yesterday. There was a twenty dollar rebate. But I threw the package away at the store and didn’t have the UPC code. And now I see that the rebate ended two days ago, a day before I bought the blades.

Last week I contributed to an IRA, but did so from an account that didn’t have enough money in it to cover the purchase. In the meantime, the mutual fund went up and I lost $150 or so.

I could go on and on. Luckily none of these errors was life threatening. They cost time and money, and in the case of the tea ceremony, the error resulted in lukewarm tea. My wife, in the spirit of a true geisha, was very polite when she said that the tea was perfect.

In Zen, Dogen tells us that when we are cooking we should be directing our attention to our cooking. We use the expression, “where were you?” when someone is one place physically and another place mentally. What a gift it is to be “with” another person, and not just sharing with them a physical space.

My mom used to say that I was a “first-class slob.” I always liked the “first-class” part. I thought that softened the blow a little. My neighbor thinks I’m OCD because when we go to our favorite Mexican dive for breakfast I organize the menus on the counter so they are all going the same way, and rearrange the multi-colored chairs sometimes so they look better. So is OCD and SLOB related (a question for my dear deceased psychotherapist aunt who would give me definitive answers (unlike my psychoanalyst sister who says, “ask your aunt”))?

So back to the zen student arranging the flowers. What a difficult job! We want the flowers to look like they just grew that way, and were not arranged. Yet the harder we try to imitate nature, the more unnatural it looks. Is greater attention the answer? Probably, but it has to be wholehearted attention, not just “concentration.” That is another topic for another post.

P.S. I wanted to report that now that I’ve discovered how inattentive I am I would turn over a new leaf. So I went to get some groceries. When it came time for checkout, I remembered that, as usual, I had forgotten the reusable bags I have in my car. Then, when I got back to my car, I remembered that I had forgotten to take into the grocery the bag of recyclable bags that I’d been carrying around.

P.S.S. Just heard a wonderful keynote for SXSW by Bruce Springsteen. At the end he said, “Don’t take life too seriously ... and take life as seriously as death.”

P.S.S.S. I’ve been reading about Shanavasa, the third patriarch of Buddhism. His enlightenment came when his teacher (Ananda) tugged on his robe. He was asking Ananda, “What kind of thing is the original unborn nature of all things [who were you before you were born]?” Imagine how that simple tug must have moved his attention from his mind to the present moment. A tten shon.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Kim, you are perfect.Well maybe you could shape up your wardrobe. H.