Weekly Update From the Zen Garland Order

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to spend some time with my kiddos and Kojindo. One of the activities we shared was watching the movie version of Hamilton. The production certainly did not disappoint and generated considerable conversation among the members of our family. We talked about perspective and story as well as the power of narratives in shaping our consciousness. There was talk of an energy that moves the flow of the narrative process on its journey that stuck with me from that shared experience. For myself, there was is also a repeated line in the show that still keeps returning to me like a kind of mantra…”Who lives, who dies, who tells the story…” That line has manifested in several ways around narrative and story for me over this week and captured some of the qualities of that aforementioned energy. Perhaps initially a bit unexpectedly or seemingly disconnectedly, the whole thing echoes with me in a way that has included the nature of rivers and movement, qi gong, and the flow of narrative. More on that to follow.

That dynamic movement of individual and shared narrative deeply impacts the energy, flow, and context where life occurs. Our current times have us dancing in unfamiliar spaces where habituated narratives of history and emergence come in contact with significant changes in the nature of flow most are accustomed to. The messy meander of a river becomes apparent in a space where perhaps there seemed to be a more “civil engineered” type of predictability to flow. This energy creates a kind of dissonance or resonance of transition perhaps as larger more noticeable changes occur. It feels a bit akin to the way elements of a river change in nature from winter to spring with thaw, rain, and shifting seasonal energy… but I will get to that in a minute.

I find myself asking many questions around how the authenticity and applicability of the story that I have historically told myself and continue to tell myself maintains relevance and applicability in my own emerging life. There seems the need for heightened sensitivity to the impacts the choices I make have across the web of not only my life, but also lives of all those I touch through extension and interconnection as these currents move beyond the line of my personal horizon of awareness. There is at once the need to move and flow and make choices with the deep knowledge that very movement of choice will have consequences and create this extending current that will have impact beyond the power of prediction. For me this creates a deep wonder as to how one can move with compassion and wisdom while holding open space for the emergence and nourishing of heartmind awareness, realizing bodhicitta and keeping us from the madness of ongoing rethinking of perspective in this unfolding story. In our world people continue to live and die…it is a story of grave importance…and who gets to tell the story?

There is truth that larger, dominant narratives have tremendous power in shaping the space we are able to realize our life choices within. This brings me back to the river. There is a natural sense of these dynamics of narrative and story I encounter when we practice Qi Gong by the Mississippi River here in Winona. In our practice, we move in a way that embraces and taps into the movement of the river that is in front of us. There is a power and flow that moves in the space of the river that we come to embody in our own movement. Cultivating a felt sense and appearing in the space of that flow, our bodies, like the river, interpreted dynamic contexts and live narratives. We move and within that movement learn about the spaces from which our own story is generated.

There is kind of dynamic energy that drives the movement of the river’s journey- a narrative of inertia, gravity, and fluid dynamics. We harness that in our own movement. We are reminded by the river narrative played out in the physical context of the geography and larger ecosystem of which the river is an inextricable part. The banks of the river provide a pathway for the flow the to move water on its journey to meet more water down at the delta in New Orleans. These banks seem so permanent in the structure and pathway they provide. In the spring, there is more water as well as a swelling of energy. As a result, the river often colors outside of the lines and overflows the banks, carving a new path to contain the energy and volume of that time. As that energy and volume changes, the flooding ceases and the water recedes back to being contained within the established river banks, moving within the general narrative and space we are accustomed to encountering. We are able to see how that same dynamic takes place in us and in the social and cultural systems we construct in a similar fashion. We are challenged to open space for this flux of dynamic energy in our practice space to aid us in developing skillful means to accommodate these shifts in narrative as well. It allows us to contact that intimate particular as one aspect of a complex narrative shaped in an ongoing manner by many perspectives.

Which brings me back to Hamilton. In this wonderfully dynamic context we see unfolding perspectives where energy and context move and shape the personal and interpersonal inter-dynamics that drive the story. This presents in a “Qi Gong” of theater and in a sense and also with energy like that of the river from above. What is the correct narrative? How do lives flow like rivers in this sense? What insight do we gain from understanding the source from which the story flows, the trajectory of the story and the interplay of our characters. Perhaps it is in asking these questions and opening space rather than expecting certainty and finality in our answers that we are able to realize flexibility and compassion. Through asking questions, we activate “not knowing” as a space in living and that fills, empties, and flows as a river would. Maybe asking, “Who lives, who dies, who tells the story…?” is enough in itself as answers echo back in endless streams of continued questions from this formless source-an ever unfolding koan. This dynamic narrative is not a thing we point to in the end, but rather the culmination of all the activity and manners in which we move, the flow of living and the manner in which we connect. Be well and deepest gratitude for your practice.

In Gassho,

Roshi Kisho​

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