Monday, October 16, 2017

Burning-Hot Coins and Slippery Rocks

I have finished reading The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures, Anne Fadiman’s superbly written, riveting account of Lia Lee’s medical travails, and, for comic relief, have started Zen Confidential: Confessions of a Wayward Monk, by Shozan Jack Haubner.

He writes: “You deal with your shit in Zen by sitting with it. By breathing right into it. You don’t try to ignore it with pleasant thoughts or lofty ideas, and you don’t try to bury it with solutions. You deal with it, you work with it, one breath at a time. You hold it right there, in your hara, or breathing center. You don’t try to breathe it out; you don’t try to breathe it in. You keep it suspended in your diaphragm like a burning-hot coin. Your problems won’t change; only you can change. That’s the point.”

That reminded me of what Ezra Bayda wrote about trying to figure out what work to do—that he finally concluded that he just needed to sit with his anxiety about it, and after he did that for long enough, an idea came to him.

One skein of recent worry runs like this: What if I go to school for two years and then can’t get a job in San Francisco? Will I be able to find any job whatsoever at age 58? Today I was going to call my friend who worked for many years as a recruiter to ask her this, but then I remembered about the sizzling coin, and dropped the reminder to myself in the recycling bag instead. While my friend might actually have some ideas about this, in the end, the question can’t be answered in advance and answering it isn’t the point. Learning from my experience is the point, however haltingly, and however often I seemingly have to learn the exact same thing once again.

This doesn’t mean that I should go to school and work as a chaplain, of course, which points to another chronic worry: How do you know what to do? I really appreciated that CPE kept me from having to think about this for 15 months, but now CPE is gone and I’m back to having to feel my way across the river on my own, one slippery rock at a time.

One thing to consider: What is my motivation? In these periods of unease, fear and the desire for security and certainty loom large. Even though this fits nicely with my generally anxious temperament, I don’t want to spend the rest of my life lurching from one seemingly safe haven to the next. Ultimately, there is no such thing, and I also will feel disappointed in myself if I do that.

(However, I’m also not saying I’m going to mail my keys to my landlord and go live on the sidewalk with Hammett, trusting that all my needs will be met.)

The path toward chaplaincy does afford continual personal growth. Wanting to grow and learn seems like a pretty good motivation.

I had dinner with Sam last night at Eric’s and learned that perhaps the thrill of working for the complaint department could wane over time.

Closing for today with this little prayer from the Peace Pilgrim, which I say aloud almost daily, and which sometimes seems like enough and sometimes doesn’t seem like enough:


Live in the present,
Do all the things that need to be done.
Do all the good you can each day.
The future will unfold.
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