the church of what's happening now

Our son Kupai started Kindergarten last week. When I woke him up for school the other day I asked him how he had slept. He said that it was really frustrating that after we read him his story and kiss him goodnight he thinks about the events of the day. He explained that he thinks of some apparently very meaningful things to say about his life “but there’s no one to tell” about these insights, as he is all alone with the lights off in his bedroom.  

When I heard him relate this complaint, the thought of Ryokan, the 18th century Japanese hermit monk flashed into my mind. (After all these years of meditation I have come to accept that I do indeed have a monkey mind, and there’s no changing this). There is one poem of his I vaguely remembered as my son mentioned this grievance. Later that day I looked through his poems and found the poem that had partially come into my mind:  

Light sleep, the bane of old age:

Dozing off, evening dreams, waking again.

The fire in the hearth flickers; all night a steady rain

Pours off the banana tree.

Now is the time I wish to share my feelings —

But there is no one.  

I am struck by the juxtaposition of the pre-sleep ruminations of a five year old boy and those of an elderly hermit Buddhist monk two hundred years before. Both deal with insights, isolation, the need to be with, to connect, the loneliness of awareness, and the awareness of loneliness.  

Over the years, I’ve come to realize that my true home is my life as it is, not as I want it to be, or as it used to be, or as it should be according to some spiritual notion, but as it is.
 
I find I need to remind myself of this simple fact daily!  

Sometimes it is messy, badly in need of repairs, or unpleasant, but whatever it is, it’s my home nonetheless; I can only live this life, even if I don’t particularly like it right now.  

Here is another poem, this one is by another Japanese Zen teacher, Gesshu Soko:  

Breathing in, breathing out,

Moving forward, moving back,

Living, dying, coming, going —

Like two arrows meeting in flight,

In the midst of nothingness

There is a road that goes directly

to my true home. 

Gesshu Soko wrote this poem shortly before he died. It speaks to me more about life than about death. I hear him saying that our true home is right in the middle of what’s happening now, whether it be living or dying, moving forward or moving back, coming or going.  

When we are fully with with things as they are, we meet the circumstances of our lives like two arrows shot from different directions coming together point-to-point in mid-air. Breathing in or breathing out, we live our lives as they are, not as we want them to be or they were.  

This moment, now, is our true home. The road that goes directly to our true home is the road that leads to this moment. That road doesn’t go anywhere. It doubles back on itself and leads to this moment, as it is.    

Walking the road of this moment is challenging. It is a lifelong practice. It can be a breeze when we are on easy street and difficult when we don’t like where it leads, the now that is pain or regret.  

Because our life as it is is our true home, we can never really step outside of it (death is another issue, and who really knows what happens then?) 

Although Buddhism promises an “end to suffering,” the way to this end leads through it, not around it. There are no shortcuts. And I feel we never really experience and end to suffering once and for all. Maybe some people do. But it is not helpful for me to have that as some goal, as any thought of a goal takes out of now into some “then.” There is always only now.  

I like to think sometimes of the character Flip Wilson, the great comedian who died in 1998, created back in the early 1970’s: Reverend Leroy, a minister of the Church of What’s Happening Now! 
It’s always only what’s happening now. I am a very happy parishioner in this church.  

Earlier we read Gesshu Soko write:

Breathing in, breathing out,

Moving forward, moving back,

Living, dying, coming, going — 

This about covers our life. Like two arrows meeting point-to-point in mid-flight, we need to meet our lives totally and fully in each moment, again and again. This is our true home. We must live here, for it is only there that we are fully alive, in the church of what’s happening now.

Let’s let Geraldine, one of Flip’s great characters on his show, have the last line:

“What you see is what you get!”

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About Tom Davidson-Marx

Former Buddhist monk, now father of two and full time registered nurse, my passion is sharing what I have learned from a life-long love, study and practice of the early Buddhist teachings. Thanks for reading.

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