Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Being With The Body

This is a picture of the Mandala of Chenrezig or the Buddha of Com- passion, the day before it's completion, last Saturday. It is apparently the largest sand mandala ever done here in North America. It's hard to see in this photo but it was luminous under the gallery lights, bursting with detail and complexity. An amazing piece of art, taking 3 weeks to create with several monks working from 10-4 each day. (And never a crib note in sight!) It will remain on display at the AGGV until Dec 5th when a ceremony will be performed and it will be swept into the sea.

I have had lots of time for contemplation today as I lazed about after having an infected tooth extracted. The young dentist who performed the extraction looked more like he should be getting on a school bus and as he sunk in the needle he talked to his assistant about Archie and Veronica getting married. When I could speak without biting him, I commented that it seemed more like Archie and Veronica should be moving into a Senior's Home. In truth this chit chat was an exhibit of compassion, of his kind wish to put me at ease, to amuse, too uplift my spirits, to offer us all an opportunity to lighten up. He was willing to do that when in truth he could have worked away in silence.

The Tricycle Daily Dharma was about "Pain" today so it couldn't have been more apropos for me. It was a helpful reminder to just be with the pain, rather than reject it. As I sat waiting for the procedure and feeling a bit antsy and nervous I imagined the comfort that people who believe in a "God" get from thinking, "God will take care of me." And then I reminded myself of the Buddhist version of that, something my Zen teacher has said, "the Buddhas are always raining down help." It's about faith, really. And that quelled the panic somehow, the urge to get up and run out of the office. And the procedure was fine and as I laughed with the Dental Assistant afterward, it is the anticipation of most things that is the worst. You know the old Mark Twain saying, "I have had many terrible experiences in my life, some of which have actually happened."

What I did really become aware of today is the subtle, almost imperceptible way I hold myself against pain, against ideas that I don't want, against unpleasant scenarios that seem to play in my head. By having time to lie very still, I could watch how certain thoughts produced instant tension in my body. I could go from a little twinge in a tooth, to an unpleasant thought about what that might indicate, to a titanic version of a dental disaster, all in a flash. And I could feel the tension it produced in the body. And the light went on (and this time there was somebody home) that I spend most of my time with my body in this state of subtle tension. I experienced how soothing it was for the body to completely relax, to not be on guard against anything. I am not a hunter-gatherer roaming the Savannahs, yet that on-guard, ready for danger feeling, seems to rest (or should I say un-rest) just below the surface of every waking moment.

And though I am so far from Christian that I might be considered "Christianaphobic", an oddly Christian sounding phrase popped into my mind as I lay there quietly, enjoying total relaxation. "Thy will be done". Hmmm, where did that come from, I wondered? The Zen group I used to belong had some terminology that seemed uncomfortably "Christian" to me and I suspect I heard this phrase from a certain Abbot. And what it was really saying to me as I lay there was "why don't you just relax, you're not in charge here. This is not your show, your restaurant .... you don't need to direct the waiters and the cooks and the dish pit. Just know that things are somehow being looked after and you don't need to worry about them. Just experience them as they arrive." To continue with the restaurant analogy, taste what comes to you, drink deeply, don't be greedy for certain tastes and reject others. Somewhere the meal that is right for your karmic plate is getting cooked up (ingredients get adjusted along the way). Bon appetit! Okay I just have to throw in a one liner. I can't resist. It seems vaguely related. A good friend of mine has a signature on his email that I love. "At the feast of the ego, everyone leaves hungry."


  1. At the feast of the hungry, there are few egos.

  2. Another great post. I wish I could be there to see the mandala; I'm sure it really does sparkle.