No Gaps, Constant Choice


On the monastic schedule the time between the end of meditation and morning service and breakfast is Temple Clean-up. As a young monk, under the direction of the Head Novice, one moved briskly from the meditation hall to ones clean-up assignment, there to scrub and polish. There were no gaps between activities, for tea or a chat for example, and no choice of assignment either. Early in the morning cold and hungry I’d sometimes weep, tears splashing into the sink or toilet I was cleaning. More often than not I’d long for the sound of the breakfast bell to bring the comfort of food and the warmth of the dining hall.

As a Senior the external pressure is off. There’s no Head Novice assigning tasks just my fellow seniors slipping the cleaning card behind the name tag on my door. (I just wish I could remember who it is I pass it on to!) Within the confines of the daily schedule one is responsible for planning ones own time. Even writing that makes me smile. Planning! Own time? Even finishing cleaning the bathroom has eluded me today.

9.15 am Cleaning toilet. 9.20 am Toilet half cleaned, remember to make a phone call and send emergency e-mail. 9.40 am Finish cleaning the toilet, hurry to Brunch. 4.15 pm Clean the bathroom sink, floor and ledges. Empty the rubbish bins. Need to do something else, can’t remember what now. The shower will have to wait until I next have one…

If there are tears nowadays they are either an allergic reaction to the cleanser or ones of gratitude. To bend and squat, to rub, scrub and polish are gifts. However the greatest gifts are the gaps, or more accurately the lack of them. Early training, lay or monastic, is learning to move from one activity to another seamlessly, constantly choosing to say Yes when the bell rings. Switching from one thing to another to another to another becomes reflexive action over time. The one who does fades in and out of awareness, as needed. Personal wishes and desires are there but not with such a loud voice, they too have a place.

For me and for those of you who read this the bell rings constantly not just for meals, meditation and work periods. Phone calls-emails-meetings-driving duties-town trip-classes-tea appointments-chats in the lane-walks on the bottom road-chats over the hedge-evening meditation-evening tea-seeking lost belongings-having a nap.

Could this be living Zen?

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2 thoughts on “No Gaps, Constant Choice”

  1. The question which ends your description of your day reminds me of the type of koan where the Master says: “Say yes and I’ll hit you with the stick! Say no and I’ll hit you with the stick! Say nothing and I’ll hit you with the stick!”

    I see the question and the koan as an invitation to respond without holding to any view. Then the mountains can flow.

    It’s not that my ‘friends’ (doubt, judgement, insecurity, etc.) don’t come with me on such a picnic, but they are much better behaved when they are invited than when I try to leave them behind.

    In gassho, Jim

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