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Lions Roar : May 2017
HOT OFF THE PRESS take the next step, the next breath, we took it together. Placing a hand on the small of a cry- ing woman’s back, it felt like her bones dissolved for a moment, then she leaned in, slowly her bones reformed. I remem- bered the words of twelfth-century Zen Master Hongzhi: Only silence is the supreme speech. Only illumination the universal response. When someone was ready for talk, talk came. Since there was so obviously nothing to do that was adequate to the pain, all that seemed pos- sible was love. We just were that, loving those whose bodies were buried there, each other, the moments when eyes met and hands touched. Some constructed a palpable, fragile crust of solitude around themselves, and though we kept an eye out to make sure they were safe, there was a tacit agreement to let them be alone. (Actually, some of the clergy had to be reminded to let folks alone. At one morn- ing meeting we were told, “Someone overheard a family member saying to another, ‘Whatever you do, don’t cry, or the clergy will come...’ So those who don’t know when to back off, learn!”) The flow- ers and teddy bears left by mourners were piled high and thick, kid-scrawled notes on some, photos and poems on others. As we boarded the ferry to return to the family assistance center, there was a subtle shift in the energy, a change in how the grief was happening. During each return trip, the work of being clergy changed to protecting the spiritual pro- cess of each person on board. Kirsten Bakis, in her brilliant novel Lives of the Monster Dogs, wrote, “In the space between desire and despair, between holding and letting go, between clinging and release, and between my desire for you and my desire for your hap- piness, which things cannot exist together, and yet which could not exist separately... Can you see this? In this space is the unspoken thing, the thing that lives.” In the work on this boat, like the work with my Zen students, I found that there was a chance to enter that space. As each of us finds our way through practic- ing with grief and the other emotions that emerge, it can help to acknowledge and protect that space. I’m talking about the space that doesn’t know, doesn’t know why, doesn’t know what’s next. It doesn’t know bad or good. It is that space relieved of needing something other than what is: relieved of desire. It is the moment that is relieved of EMPTY BRANCHES A Season of Zen by Bonnie Myotai Treace Millstone Press; 90 pp.; $9.99 (paper) LION’S ROAR | MAY 2017 74