Tomorrow is the Harvest Moon. It’s also known as the Fruit Moon which prompts the question: what have been the fruits of our practice? What will we gather together with the intention that it nourish us through the cold, dark nights ahead? If the state of my life at this point is any indication of my stewardship of my spiritual ground, I’d say winter holds promise of a meager diet. Where did the time go? What happened to the plantings of six months ago?
Not only has the wild heat of the Summer been unforgiving of the vegetable and flower gardens, this inner heat of dissatisfaction has left me parched in my practice. It could be a good thing, I suppose: an opportunity to see the places where my character fractures and edges where my ego curls up and withers. The fact that I don’t like it is irrelevant because once the whole ball of self-reflection and intense scrutiny gets rolling, there’s not much that will stop it. And the universe helps it along too.
Meet his doppelgänger, Mystery formerly known as No Name.
I came home one Friday evening to find Sprout unusually needy of attention. His security blanket, Frank, had been away for a few a days and I reframed his utilitarian affections for me as an opportunity to bond. Apparently, the practice of equanimity was bearing fruit, transforming the typical bitterness I feel about feline fickleness. And then I wondered if I was having a spiritual emergency when I saw two Sprouts at my feet, asking to be picked up. It took a moment, a fascinating moment during which I physically felt my brain trying to make the two one, forcing my eyes to reset to a previous configuration. One not two.
Sadly, though not for No Name, truth always vanquishes delusion. And now we are left with a mystery, not just about the cat but the manner in which she got into the house and took up residence. But reside she will, and preside over the reconfiguration of four cats, two litter boxes, and a deferment of my long-desired rescue dog. The practice of letting go is getting a workout too.
On the bookish front, I’m blessed with two amazing books. The Existential Buddhist, Seth Segall’s Encountering Buddhism: Western Psychology and Buddhist Teachings is a tour de force of 9 essays bringing together the Dharma and Western perspectives of mental health. I had it set for review in October but Frank has absconded with it which reminds me to deepen my practice of generosity and also lock away my new purchases. The second is by Practice of Zen blogger, Ben Howard: Entering Zen, a collection of Ben’s writings that are always a delight and a deep teaching. The few chapters I’ve read remind me that there is power in a practice that is softly open and that some things crumble and collapse despite being well-placed and useful at the time of planting. The third book is a bit of a curiosity called The Heart Attack Sutra by Karl Brunnhölzl. I have no memory of purchasing this; like Mystery, it seemed to just show up – about the time I was considering cancelling my echo cardiogram and stress echo test because my practice of remembering my mortality doesn’t include fuzzy pictures of a pulsing heart. (Actually, seeing my heart beat in real-time has to be one of the most profound moments of deep meditation I have ever experienced!)
So. Yes. Practice has been a struggle over the last months. And yet, and yet I know this is precisely the form and purpose of practice: to sit with this discomfort of things out of rhythm and without rhyme. Dukkha at its most seductive tells us to move away from this stuckness, insists there are more important things to do, critical time that cannot be wasted. And that is the precise moment to turn into the vast emptiness of practice.