Giving With Empty Hands

This letter speaks of tea-n-chats the author and I occasionally had after evening meditation on Fridays during my tenure as the temporary Prior in Edmonton, Canada 2005-06. Such conversations are not limited to priory life. I continue to enjoy them – here in the Bay Area, this morning, in a back garden, with cats and lush foliage and melon and strawberries and (of course) fine conversation.

Rev. Mugo,
Those Friday night teas in Edmonton changed my life. You gracefully showed me the path out of my suffering when you were here and I’m continually glad for your on-line teaching. I think the light started to come on when you directed me INSIDE my head to notice my dissatisfaction (and all the feelings/actions that grew from it). I had to stop blaming, resisting, and start accepting.

I’m meeting more people now that I have a new job. — Did I tell you I have a new job? Well, I do. — I’m meeting more people and I’m seeing something that makes me smile. I’m seeing myself the way I was, mirrored in so many people around me. This makes me feel like I’ve moved on from the old me because I’m seeing how much I’ve changed. [There’s still lots of ego in that last sentence!] It also reassures me because I understand how connected we all are: we all suffer, we all experience delusion.

The new job: adult speech-language pathologist. Traveling to small, prairie towns seeing people in hospitals, long-term care facilities, or their homes. Stroke, illness, disease, or just plain getting old.

I came across a beautiful idea yesterday. Some people in the end stages of dementia (like Alzheimer’s) become as they were when infants. Long dormant reflexes return, revealed as the final layers of conscious life are peeled away. Rub a finger on an innocent cheek and the person will turn toward the finger like a infant looking for a breast.

The thought of this fills me with wonder! Birth returns at death. The phrase no birth, no death comes to mind although I’m still not quite sure what to do with it.

The square bracket comment (also in italics) in this note shows my current fascination: all the unconscious ways I reinforce this card castle I call me without even thinking. The koan (spiritual question): how to remove myself from the situation? Or can I? Or should I?

Dear Michael,
Thanks so much for taking the time to write and for your permission to publish, with edits, as a posting rather than a comment. I benefited greatly from our chats, as you know. Our mutual interest in language, words, giving expression and communication generally left us with much to talk about. Wonderful.

We each bring something unique, ourselves, to the table. Which obviously includes everything we believe ourselves to be, and not be. You could say we are the ornamentation of conversation and human concourse generally. Correctly understood, to allow ones unique colouration to show, to allow oneself to be coloured, to become coloured by others – is a gift. It is possible to truly give in this way because one knows that the self, as we imagine it to be, is actually much much bigger. And is content. That’s giving with empty hands or selfless giving.

You are right to be aware of unconscious ways I reinforce this card-castle. That is best achieved by not criticise or labelling what comes to light. In fact that’s what cements the illusion of the card-castle.

BTW – Originally I’d edited out your bracketed sentence. No, I thought, that thought is redundant. Of course I put it back in as you refer to it later. It’s still redundant though. I’d recommend editing out such thoughts from your thoughts all together. How’s that for a Friday evening at the kitchen table?

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9 thoughts on “Giving With Empty Hands”

  1. What a lovely post. I am struggling a bit with my own ‘house of cards’ today. Usual nonsense but it always seems so real at the time…
    Thanks to both for sharing.

    D

  2. The question in all of this is the question of Right Effort. Most of us had end of term reports which more often than not included could try harder. Good term however…. There was never could try softer! Could consider compassion as an option. Yes, ‘always seems so real at the time’. What ever it is has a real impact, a real consequence that flows from it and in that way could one accurately report ‘nonsense’. OK, doesn’t make sense, indeed?

    It doesn’t make sense that I’ve been loosing things these past days however there is an explanation. I’m tired. So I hope this makes sense Dave and I’m not loosing my ability to string words together.

  3. as i have only very recently wandered into your blog, i have to admit i was a bit lost in this latest posting and reply. and as you wrote recently “not all who wander are lost”. lost in a good way. in this big small world, my dear friend’s Father in Japan is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s (and i have been saying that for a few years now so perhaps it is past the early stages). i will recommend this blog and Michael’s “beautiful idea” to her. i think any act of compassion can only help those loved ones with and whose lives are touched with the helplessness of dementia/Alzheimer’s.

    without knowing why, my Mother is going to soon receive a check in the mail to “help out”. and without going into too much detail in this reply, i will say it is the title “giving with empty hands” which motivated my “right effort”.

  4. Yes, I can understand why you might be a bit lost re this last posting. It’s a ‘leap beyond reason and reasonableness’ kind of post. I don’t try and confuse readers on purpose, however sometimes helping people to be lost, so to speak, might help in the long run. Might bring in another way of seeing.

    Glad you have some financial help for your Mother.

  5. This was JUST like a Friday night with tea! Except this time I have notes to reflect on. Thank you so much for affirming my moving on and adding a sign post to keep me going in the right direction.

    There are so many wonderful seeds just under the surface of all of us, our Buddha nature I reckon, and I’m grateful to have such a wise gardener at my side to offer some Bodhisattva water and show me how to find the sun that will help good things grow.

    In gassho,
    Michael

  6. Rev. Mugo, I want to thank you this morning for several gifts, starting with your post on giving with empty hands. It was because of the monks’ “being”, the way they spoke, behaved, carried themselves, and responded to those around them that I came to Buddhism thirty-three years ago. I instantly knew that they were onto something, and I had to find out what it was. It was, and continues to be, a profound gift that continues to change my life, and it came from empty hands.

    I shall print and post on my bathroom mirror your observation:

    “We each bring something unique, ourselves, to the table. Which obviously includes everything we believe ourselves to be, and not be. You could say we are the ornamentation of conversation and human concourse generally. Correctly understood, to allow ones unique colouration to show, to allow oneself to be coloured, to become coloured by others – is a gift. It is possible to truly give in this way because one knows that the self, as we imagine it to be, is actually much much bigger. And is content. That’s giving with empty hands or selfless giving.”

    Thanks also for the lovely Bodhi leaf pin and the lay ministry leaflet. You have captured the spirit of lay ministry as I encounter it, and I believe it will be helpful to all of the lay Sangha by de-mystifying those people with hair who are sort of dressed like monks.

    with bows,
    Jim

  7. Your note reminds me to make sure I post the leaflet on the internet. That will have to be after I land in England.

    I’m glad that what I wrote in this ‘Empty Hands’ post made sense to you. It was the humanity, their allowing it to show, of the monks I first met at Throssel that drew me to this practice and tradition.

    Several people have written saying how they always liked the Bodhi Leaf pins, but didn’t ever buy one. They point so directly don’t they.

  8. …I zipped back to the priory in my minds eye and started talking. The answer was for you and I thought it OK to share with others too.

  9. I’m just about to shut down my computer in readeness for my flights. I thought I’d written you a reply to your comment however I can’t see it. Perhaps you will come to Throssel while I’m there and we can speak.

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