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Lions Roar : March 2012
SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2012 68 wrong with a shrink, they deny it. Then they say you’re hostile and that you should work on your anger.” I nodded. Maybe dealing with all those “crazies” made him crazy too. “I’m so sorry, honey. I need you to understand.” “Understand?” There was so much I didn’t understand. “I met him when I was just a bit older than you are now. I was sixteen. I’ve changed so much. He’s changed. The world has changed.” “Yeah, I noticed.” “I want to go far away from here. I already feel so far away,” she confessed. “Don’t go,” I said, although I knew how she felt, because I felt the same way. All I could do was hug her, hoping with all my heart that when she left, she’d take me with her. Beginner’s Mind, 1978 The year my parents divorced, the happy face was everywhere. I loathed that yellow-and-black pop-art countenance plas- tered on T-shirts and pillowcases. Everything reduced to one smooth upward arc. Smile. Have a Nice Day. Fuck that, I thought. I wanted things with imperfections, scars, dents, and frowns. I wanted things that had been banged up, things that broke down without a warranty. Things like me. I started taking drugs, hanging out with Vietnam vets, flunking out of school. I was angry and I liked it. Then one day I met Zev Stein at Berkeley High. He’d also been beaten up, and his father was a shrink. He wasn’t daunted by my cynicism. He saw right through it. “If I hadn’t been beaten up, I would never have realized how important it is to stand up for who you are,” he said. “I guess you’re right. But I have no idea who I am or what I could possibly stand up for,” I replied. He showed me death poems by Zen monks. He gave me a copy of Shunryu Suzuki’s Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, with its famous phrase: “In the beginner’s mind there are many pos- sibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” He brought me to Mr. Powers, a social science teacher who taught us how to meditate at our desk chairs. My mind was bombarded with thoughts, desires, criticism. “It’s bullshit,” I said, opening my eyes. “It doesn’t work.” “It’s all about practice. You just do it every day, like brushing your teeth,” Zev countered calmly. “And it works.” The next time, I couldn’t stop sobbing. “Maybe I should go into therapy after all,” I said. Mr. Powers laughed. “Just keep sitting—be in your breath, get out of your head.” “Do you mean I need to be more detached?” I asked. I’d read Zev’s books. I wanted to be a good student. “No. The point is not detachment. It’s nonattachment,” he replied. “Just stop thinking so much and start feeling. Get into your heart.” “I don’t know how.” “I’ll teach you if you’ll let me,” Zev said. When I sat down to meditate, the story of my life surfaced; all the people who’d wronged me. Yet, when I was done, I felt peaceful. Zev and Mr. Powers made me think it was possible to be happy, no matter what the world threw at you. “I’ll let you,” I finally said. What did I have to lose? A lot, it turned out. After someone tried to rape me, I decided to take karate. Our teacher made us meditate and chant the Heart Sutra. And I kept Mr. Powers’ words in my head for years, each time I sat down to meditate. Even after I repeatedly had the shit kicked out of me. Even after Zev’s father was murdered and the killer tsunami came crashing down. Tokyo 2011 Karate eventually brought me to Japan. Here, I’m often invis- ible. People don’t sit next to me on the trains. Shopkeepers sometimes talk about me to my Japanese friends, as if I’m not there. I open a yoga studio. I tell my story to my students. Hear- ing myself, I think, maybe I got the story wrong. Maybe there’s another narrative. I practice naikan, gratitude, thinking of all the teachers, friends, family members, editors, and bosses who’ve supported me. I start wondering if all the people who’ve “wronged” me have actually been my teachers, starting with my parents. My father asks for forgiveness. I give it and ask for the same. I consider that all the wrongs have made me more aware of suffering. I want to understand how the events of my past are my own creations. I want to own them, to set them free. I realize that in Japan I’m a minority, and I can feel what it’s like to live that way. Because, let’s face it: I’m a healthy, white, upper middle class, Jewish American girl, with everything afforded me by those labels. So I got the shit kicked out of me. So I learned that life wasn’t always peaceful or safe. So I awoke to the realities of the world. So what? That world busted my heart right open and that was the best gift I’ve ever gotten. And then the earthquake and tsunami hit. And I’m more afraid than I’ve ever been before. It’s as if the universe shouted, “Fear? I’ll show you fear.” The quake forces me to see the part of me that’s trying to be invisible, separate from others, hiding in some dark corner to protect myself. But I can’t protect myself from an earthquake. I have to surrender to it. All of it. Because when the earth shakes, a woman next to me screams and, as I reach out to comfort her, I know I’m comforting myself at the same time. In the darkest moment when my world seems like it might end, I’m untying the chains of my tethered heart and setting it free. ♦ Editor’s note: Some of the names in this article have been changed.