We moved out of the house on my 60th birthday. I had tried to plan so it would not be a heavy move-out day but there is a law of nature that applies especially to summer rental. It takes exactly as much time as you have.
When people asked me what I did for my birthday and I said we moved out of the house, they said, “You must be pretty good at it by now.” Well, that’s true, more or less. We’ve been doing this for 17 years. We now have a whole system of boxes that go into the basement, out to the studio and onto the boat. The dogs have learned that the most important things in our lives are boxes. They know that we love and follow our boxes. They have learned this so well that they plant themselves in the car as soon as the boxes come out because they know that big things are happening and they don’t want to be left behind. They actually refuse to go back into the house until they see the boxes come with us.
Our lives have a seasonal and nomadic quality, which takes planning and energy. I keep trying to learn how to do it better. I have developed a habit of watching how people work. We have a friend named Larry, and he is without exception, the most productive person I have ever seen. One time, I asked him to build a little display table for me for the Gallery. I came back 15 minutes later, and he had materialized a beautiful little pedestal table, with beveled edges and finely fitted pieces of wood. Judging from that, I’d say he could build a kitchen full of custom cabinets in about a day and a half. The thing about Larry, and this is what amazes me, is that he never appears to be trying. I think he has worked so long and hard that he carries his knowledge in his whole body. He doesn’t push himself. He never hurries. He doesn’t waste a motion. The energy seems to well up in him, matched to whatever he is doing. He organizes everything, down to the way he keeps his van, the way he eats, the way he packs his clothes. He just turns on his music and off he goes. He rests well, at the beginning and middle and end of each day. He doesn’t get side tracked. He paces himself. He does only so much, which is plenty. I asked Larry to tell me how he works and he doesn’t have a philosophy about it. He said he used to run around like a crazy person. He said he never got much done and he never made any money. He said one day he just decided to make things as easy for himself as possible.
Larry’s work is always fine and clean and beautiful and it’s beautiful to watch him. I’ve learned from him, the way I’ve learned from photography, that the greatest gift is the ability to pay attention. I think that skill and balance and order and energy and integration and beauty are connected to paying attention; that if I pay attention, all of these things can follow.
After we finished moving out, we went to the mainland and stayed with my mother and brother. My mom loves to watch “Fox News”. I also read a book called “Zen at War”, about Zen’s ideological participation in World War II, including that of esteemed patriarchs in many of the major Zen lineages that have now come to this country.
I thought a lot about whether the role of these teachers made any difference, whether they were leading or following the charge. They were in a military dictatorship after all, and the emperor was absolute Lord. There were some Zen folks who opposed the war and they were imprisoned, beaten and killed. But both the Japan story and Fox News got me all worked up about how ideology and power can work together to create such spectacular suffering, about how it can happen in any culture, about how it distorts the best things, about how it takes so much from people and always betrays them in the end. It didn't make me feel any better when I learned that the people in Japan starved for another four years after the war was over, primarily because of corruption.
I thought of a time about 16 years ago. I was working in Japan, and I took some time to visit and stay at a number of Zen monasteries, including Eihieji, Hoshinji and Myoshinji, some of the founding monasteries in the Soto and Renzi traditions. I also stayed at one small monastery, a wonderful place that was also a sort of youth hostel. One day, the head monk had us all dress up in monk’s clothes and go into town for a traditional Japanese begging excursion. I had been specifically instructed not to say anything, especially not to say “Domo arrigato goziamus”, one of the few Japanese phrases I used all the time, which means, “Thank you very much, indeed.” But an old woman came out from behind her house to give much more than the small change that people normally gave. She was sobbing. All I could do was thank her and imagine her life, imagine what had happened to her in the war, imagine what it meant for her to give so much to an American Zen student.
So after I worried and pondered and enlightened my husband about all of this I went out to the fish hatchery to take a few pictures. I told myself this was not the time to analyze the problems of the human race. I told myself to slow down. I said it was time to rest. I said I was going out, not to hunt for pictures but to gather them to me, not to spend energy but to restore it and take it in.
I liked the morning. I liked the cool, dewy light. I liked to see the shoots curling and reaching, the tiny leaves unfurling. I liked that all the green still looked as new and fresh to me as it did at the beginning of spring. I went back to see where the river had been boiling out from under a log the last time and I knew it would still be boiling. I took its picture five different ways to see if I could match the speed of the camera to the speed of my sight. I liked what was happening in nature. I liked what would burst out in big and small ways in every possible direction. I liked how it was closer to the truth of everything.
I need my times when I can dwell in all the beauty, to see it again and again until I finally decide to trust it. This is how I rest. It’s better for me than anything else I do.
I like that it doesn’t belong to any institution, but that it does belong to me and to everyone else, equally and without qualification. I’m 60 years old now. I’ve have studied a lot of things and lived a lot of lives. No one can tell me that I haven’t meditated long enough or that I don’t believe the right things. No one can tell me that I’m not saved or enlightened or good enough or ready or that I don’t have the right politics or the privilege of knowing what I know or feel or need. I know enough about things that can’t be twisted or betrayed or broken. I know that I belong on this earth and that my life and life itself are the same thing. I know that life will always care for itself, yearn for itself and make itself into beauty.