Powder on Dawn Ridge

Before it occurred to me to study meditation, I’d almost reached retirement age. A buddy introduced me to a teacher in the Rinzai Zen tradition. The latter was clearly a bit of a rogue; how much I didn't know until his biography was published. But I sought a teacher who was engaged in life, not just another dude who regarded himself as “spiritual.” He said he didn't encourage “tourists,” and after a few days of meditation I would be asked to make a commitment of six months. The group or sangha met every day at dawn.

All we did was hear a singing bowl at the start, sit on cushions called zafus, and then, after the teacher had gone upstairs, listen for a little bell to signal an individual session called dokusan. There was a minimum of intellectual discussion, a shock to one who had excelled in this activity and regarded it as normal. After asking a question I might be told by the teacher, “who’s asking?”

My first sign that all this was having an effect came when walking along a spring avenue and seeing a tree in blossom. Ordinarily I would have thought something like, “ah, renewal,” but now I stopped, turned toward the tree and gazed. I thought if this were the only tree in the world, people would fly to see it. But there it was, all the time. And there were others.

There is seeing things and being aware of nothingness. One morning the next winter on the teacher’s chilly porch, what turned out to be a triple haiku came hunting for me:

Powder on dawn ridge

The bell a way that silence

has of ringing us.

“Us rung by silence?”

Soon you will be telling me,

“sun rises, snow melts.”

There’s really nothing

to be distracted by when

birds play in this sky.

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