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Lions Roar : July 2016
THIS DHARMA LIFE Why Bother? Sweep. Shovel. Sweep. Shovel. On a meditation retreat, STEVEN SCHWARTZBERG’s vigilant attention and effort seemed never-ending, and maybe even a little crazy. Wait: was that the point? I AWOKE THIS MORNING to a light, steady snowfall. It’s not much by the standards of a New England winter but enough to coat the wide, wooden, open-air walkways of the Forest Refuge. Since my daily yogi job is to keep these walkways clean, I’m pay- ing attention. I’ve been at the Forest Refuge for two weeks now, with ten weeks more to go. Day by day I’ve been acclimating to retreat life—no talking, no technology, no external stimulation or distraction. My main companions are the quiet winter beauty of the natural world and the frenetic chatter of my noisy mind. Most days, cleaning the walkways involves one thorough sweeping early in the morning. But today, who knows? After breakfast I sweep them clear of snow but they are soon dusted, then blanketed, with a fresh coat. How seriously, I wonder, am I to honor my responsibility? How much will I let it interfere with my meditation practice? How much will sweeping and shoveling be my practice today? I decide to meditate for sits of about forty-five minutes and head out at each break to sweep. I do this twice, but each time fresh snow gusts onto the decking and undoes my clearing as soon as I’m done. I begin methodically sweeping behind the office building, and by the time I reach the back of the dining room, the office walkway is covered again. The third time around, I notice another yogi staring out one of the dining room windows. After a few moments she steps outside onto the decking with her cup of tea, watching the snow fall over the meadow beyond the hall, discreetly watching me. As I get near, she smiles, keeps looking at the distant field, avoids eye contact, and, shockingly, speaks. “Sisyphus,” she says, then goes back inside. Oh my god, a word! A yogi spoke to me! A live contact! An ordinary human interaction—mundane and audacious in equal measure. I am abuzz with the surprise and even intensity of it. And the wit, too. If you’re going to offer one word, “Sisy- phus” is a great one. Bold, to the point, rich with connotation. She could have said, “Yo,” or “Namaste” or “snow,” or even “thanks,” with far less impact. I continue sweeping and shoveling. I start to wonder: Is she WWW.LACMA.ORG STEVEN SCHWARTZBERG, PhD, is a clinical psychologist and dharma practitioner in the Insight Meditation tradition. Jittoku by Sengai Gibon LION’S ROAR | JULY 2016 27 CULTURE • LIFE • PRACTICE