in this moment
we tread a path
Now that was an eventful week! Before I continue on this meander, let me give a deep bow to Philip Ryan at the Tricycle Editors’ Blog who graciously picked up 108ZB’s Ox Herding adventure and made this whole enterprise a chance to practice a lot of calming breaths. It was fascinating to watch the oxy-moronic mind grab the event and create catastrophic dramas out of it – with rumbling omens provided by our little 5.5 earthquake on Wednesday. And that precisely is the process of Ox-Herding, isn’t it? How great to have it unfold all in Real Time!
In this stage of Ox-Herding we are in partnership with ourselves, integrating practice into the everyday, bringing the disciplined mind into service so that there is a seamless quality in our interactions. In my own staggering along the path, I get to a point, after the dance and the trusting embrace, where I can no longer deny the relational. Not only do the Ox and I continue to create each other, we now also create the world we move in. In that world, I can no longer see things the same way, interact with the same unskillfulness – well, I can, but no longer without awareness that I’m doing so. And interestingly, I don’t want it to be any other way. This feels real; it feels like the compass is set in the right direction.
In sangha, last week, I was asked to talk about where I was with the Upaya Chaplaincy studies. I preferred to talk about Ox-Herding. It turns out it’s one and the same. One of the sangha members asked if the stages were re-visited at different points in our lives or if we “got it” enough to fall forward continuously. If I think about the unfolding of many (all?) of my experiences, I can definitely say it starts with a search; more accurately it starts with a yearning. After that, trajectory and mileage on the ox will vary.
That this is a recursive process was really evident upon seeing my posts tagged as “art” on the Tricycle Editors’ Blog. It threw me into Stage 3 (Seeing the Ox), triggering all the concepts what “this means.” Twenty or thirty years ago, when I bought my brush for $1.96 + tax, the only intent was to take lessons to feed my love of all things Japanese (there’s a karmic link there that I will explore someday). As my teacher’s inept student, taming the grasping and wild mind definitely overlay the other stages of seeing the traces and actuality of how I could grow. At some point, I invested myself in the process (in first glimpse, did you notice the hat transforming into the horns of the ox). If I rode the ox home then, it was along paths that were tangled with thorny bushes which tore at my skin. I left the teacher but not the path – or the ox – and started the search again and again.
The Chaplaincy process is similar – but different. The ox is larger – about the size of Babe the Blue Ox and I’m no Paul Bunyan. It too started with a search; unlike the art, this began with a yearning to create some meaning out of this mess I call “my life.” What I saw as traces and then the reality of who I am in this particular journey has been hard to comprehend. I feel I’m asking to learn how to offer the incense but instead, I’m caught up in a whirlwind of learning how to grind the ingredients and glue them together. But that’s fine because I’m reminded that when I grind the ink for my paintings, it gives them a special depth. More important, there are moments when I am struggling to do things differently; graduate school was an abusive environment and it gave me survival skills that I’d prefer never to re-activate. So up to this stage, dancing with the Ox is giving me a lot of practice cultivating different skills – trust, boundless joy, equanimity, understanding presence. And walking away quietly.
I do feel I’m riding the Ox home in the Chaplaincy and the path has to be negotiated with both intention and awareness of lessons learned. It cannot be goal-driven, not simply to catch a ride home; this time it must be different at every level of my body/mind. But, cattle love to take the same route home to the barn each evening. Look out across a field where they have been wandering and you will see well-defined tracks. Creatures of habit, they are not easily dissuaded. So Babe the Blue Ox and I have some negotiating to do because some of these well-worn tracks are not how I want to get home.
Thank you for practicing,
Genju (and Babe)