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Lions Roar : January 2007
SHAMBHALA SUN JANUARY 2007 23 I MEDITATE EVERY DAY. It isn’t anything fancy. I just plunk myself down on a big round cushion, straighten my back, lower my eyes, and breathe in and out, slowly and steadily. On every out-breath I think the question, “What is it?”—a ques- tion my teacher gave me years ago to focus on. Any number of thoughts could work instead— the word peace, for example. Or I could count to ten for ten breaths and then start all over until I’m done meditating. When I catch myself distracted by thinking, I just go back to the question. After thirty minutes or so I stop, read a scripture, and am ready to stand up and face the day, arms open. I don’t know why I keep sitting, exactly. It just seems to suit me. Plus I’ve noticed that when I don’t take time to sit, a subtle crankiness creeps up my spine, making me less patient with myself and the world at large. It is better to sit for half an hour than to wish crankiness on anyone. Meanwhile, in a life that is at the same time hilarious and in- tense, I opened the city of Detroit’s first Zen Buddhist Temple in 2000 because it seemed the thing to do. Helped by dozens of people who appeared out of nowhere, Still Point is now a solid and sincere place of refuge for those of us willing to take a good look at how we’re living our lives. So we can do better. After all the years of work, the by now hundreds of thou- sands of prostrations, years of meditation, and so much chanting that chants fill my head even in the dentist’s chair, where I used to pray for death, I’ve realized only this: that ev- erything and everyone is precious beyond words. Everything and everyone is holy. And the point of our being on this sweet planet is to be of service to all of it. And when we understand this truth in our bones, joy fills our hearts. I swear it. This message is a hard sell. We keep looking for labels, you and I. Signs of success. Badges. On some days people want to know only if I’m “enlightened.” Given the muddy nature of the word, I always cringe at the question. The last exchange happened as I was preparing to leave Still Point after five years for the life of adventure, one without the protection of abbey walls. On a quiet Tuesday I found myself sitting at the kitchen table staring at my cell phone. It was the third urgent phone call in a week. Each one wore me out because I never knew what the urgency would be when I returned the initial “Please call: urgent” messages that popped up on the phone, mostly in the middle of the night. Sometimes it was a death. Some- times a lover had just smashed her partner into a wall. When the callers were young, under thirty years old, say, the urgency was often a depression they couldn’t shake, nor did they have money for medication, let alone a doctor’s visit. “Would med- itation help me?” they would ask. “Yes,” I’d say, “but I don’t know how quickly. Go see a doctor. Do what you have to do to pay for an appointment.” In Detroit this can mean selling plasma, prescription drugs, books, CDs. That week, a so-called vacation week, the phone rang and I couldn’t decide whether or not to answer it. The sugar-free, chocolate-covered toffee bar in my mouth was so sticky that most of the teeth on the right side of my mouth were glued together. A good excuse not to answer. Saliva was everywhere. If it had been a video phone, the caller would have seen bare feet with dirt stains on the bottom from being shoeless all the time and old black yoga pants from my Bikram days, topped by a hand-me-down T-shirt from my daughter’s collection. That day’s choice was an old Abercrombie tee with a surfer Hello, Are You Enlightened? Sometimes people ask GERI LARKIN, who founded the Still Point Buddhist Temple in Detroit, if she’s enlightened. She says that’s not the real question. PHOTOBYLAURACHENOWETH