Resonating across time zones

by | Aug 6, 2021

And there I was. Sitting in front of my device again, across time zones, so close to Sangha family and yet so distant, always at mercy of capricious wireless connection that could have been affected at any given moment by so many factors beyond my (or anyone else’s) control, including all kinds of software glitches, weather patterns here in this scenic corner of Slovakian Carpathian mountains or there in the spot right above the line separating Minnesota from Iowa, or anywhere in-between. The place I knew from my in-depth introspections of Google maps, Hokyoji’s website, a video clip narrated by Peter Coyote, and photos from a field trip kindly sent by Jakudo who, it turned out, in the meantime became Dojun.

When back in December 2019 we hugged our goodbyes with ZGO Dharma River community, member of which I had formally become during my jukai ceremony just a few hours earlier, I was sure I would come back in summer  2020 at the latest. A couple of lockdowns and several waves of the pandemic later, we all know better than that. In the meantime, I have been perfecting the art of non-planning (as it became close to impossible) and being flexible enough to shrug off almost any unexpected glitch in any of the systems that our lives depend on. Or at least so I was thinking in April 2021, having walked with a couple of seemingly unsolvable riddles imposed by the necessity to remotely care for both of my incapacitated elderly parents under the pandemic. Discernment in Unity. Every day had been marked by endless opportunities to practice it, until Discernment in Unity started practicing me rather than the other way round. Impossible decisions; good and bad choices that change places within minutes and sometimes seconds; inconceivable range of emotions; family stories of past traumas that have never been shared but nevertheless stubbornly were working their way to the surface despite all my reluctance and resistances, much like a nettle in my garden – a true master of resilience and determination, never giving up and never ceasing to grow, even from the tiniest bit of a rootstalk forgotten in the soil.

Sitting in front of my device, like so many times over the last 18 months, over and over learning the steps in an intricate dance of intimacy and separation. Again, although I was supposed to be on the other side of the screen (and the other side of the Atlantic). Still, a lifeline. The screen that after the first few sessions became not so much a window into the reality of a distant zendo I got to know so well although I’ve never set my foot in it, as rather a living and breathing membrane. Even if no one is “there”, be it a capricious connectivity, a flexibility of a schedule or simply a confusion. It turned out the space of practice that needs to be maintained entails so much more than a few squares on the screen. It wants ME to maintain it, if I happen to be the only one “there”. Whatever that ME is at any given moment. It well may be nothing but a pure confusion and a messy, painfully tangled knot of grief, sorrow, anger, longing, fear, disappointment, and despair.

So many failed expectations. New ones always ready to settle in, albeit slightly uneasy and disappointed at a lack of welcoming fanfares. “Here”, “there”, and “online” become provisionary dispositions. Time and space get continuous, times zones – both arbitrary and as real as a physical body (deprived of sleep) can be. Certainly, I should have slept longer in the mornings. But this would require to get the whole world to cooperate, which it rarely accepts to do. Neighbors are mowing their lawns; there is no better morning than today at 6.30 for shepherds to take their several dozens-cow strong herd to our side of the hill; each cow is wearing a bell so suddenly an unexpected but not unwelcome pastoral symphony is wandering just behind our fence; a few quad bikes and a home-made tractor that are laboriously making their way towards the community forest up the valley, are signaling not only a beginning of the season for stocking the wood for winter, but also a passion for vernacular engineering among the local community and some kind of competition to make noisy engines always noisier. Mrs. Korabikova brought a cake she had baked for us a day before and unwritten laws of rural savoir vivre are unrelenting and unforgiving: a coffee together and recent news travelling from mouth to mouth. I need to harvest meadowsweet for my winter anti-cold tea, it’s going to rain in the afternoon and the flowers will have been gone by the time the sesshin ends.

As I’m making it through the days and nights of Zen practice, the world at large is teaching me what it does the best: fully living moment by moment. When I’m going outside my veranda and walking towards the meadow up the slope at 2.30 am, a fresh, nightly air hits my nostrils, after the whole day of “new normal” that summer heatwave instigated by the climate crisis has become. I’m walking up to the fence and in a close distance I see the contours of a deer family feasting on a wild apple tree. One spectacular female and two youngsters, we know each other well, I see them regularly whenever I go outside before 6 am. Hesitating, they start graciously moving through the grass and eventually reach the brink of the forest. We’re so distant to each other, and yet so close.

And then, just as in every other morning during the sesshin I’m again entertaining a thought of giving up, succumbing to grief, anger, and disappointment, I notice I can’t split the southern Minnesota’s dawn birdsongs from chirping of swallows hunting for insects in a full midday sun just outside my window. That damn lawnmower somehow finds the way to shake hands with the sound of spectacular bell at the zendo, emitting frequencies well beyond the capacity of any computer’s internal microphone and sometimes apparently muddling the wireless connection there. I – or whatever is gathering as such at any given moment – am an opening for resonance. Discerning, unifying. Whatever is coming my way, I’m making space for it and inviting it to resonate. Closely and in a distance. Inside, outside and through a membrane. Across time zones.

I could have never been able to do it on my own.



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