Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Babies and Friends

Lauren and I are out in Monterey, a seaside town home to some big military installations. First stop: the aquarium. It was something we could wholeheartedly agree on. While Chinese food fights pizza cravings and movies vie for relevance, fish swimming in water made immediate sense. I remember one fish with a misshapen eye and jelly fish pumping like hearts with tendrils, florescence and dark browns tangled tanks that I couldn't find the beginning or end of, some of them looking like tread mills with thousands of silver scaled fish flowing like a river within a river.

Then off to the see midwives; we are working with three. The office was a living room with a faux fur rug. They served us tea as we all sat on the floor. All three are beautiful women, beautiful mothers. One of them is the daughter of our senior dharma teacher. She grew up at Tassajara. She showed us an amish birthing chair. A little different from the military hospital I was born in where my mother could reach out and touch the Filipino woman who was also birthing someone. I wonder where that someone is now.

The baby, just 8 weeks old, is a translucent skulled thing with webbed fingers and a heart that beats 150 times per minute. Its just 1/2'' tall. Its name will be Calliope Gail or Gaetano Raymond. Family names, except for Calliope, which is just a nice name of a muse who inspires heroic poetry. It's also a name of a street in New Orleans, pronounced Cal-lee-oh down there. Gaetano was the name of my grandfather.

So we got pregnant soon after Sioen died. He died on the steps of the Zendo, or the engawa if you know what I mean, after running the wake up bell. He was my guest cook partner and my cushion mate. That morning he wasn't at his seat and I could hear them trying to resuscitate someone. The Aed actually narrates in a robotic voice. We all sat zazen while listening to Sioen pass away. An abbot came in and said something terrible had happened and invited us to ring the Densho bell 108 times. Then we had a memorial. Then we sat with the body. In less than 10 hours there was a procession from where he lay covered in flowers into a hearse, which would climb the steep road out of Tassajara. Before that though I went to see Sioen alone. It was our day to cook dinner for 70 some guests. We always bowed in and hugged before a shift. I went in and told him he looked well garnished and that Lauren and I were trying to have a baby and if he wanted to experiment with transmigrating, now could be a good time. About 2 weeks later we were pregnant, right after our first round trying. Hey, I'm not asking any questions. We'll have to see if the baby reaches for a burning man costume or a spatula or has an affinity for middle eastern food (Sioen was Lebanese).

So the kitchen lost a lot when Sioen passed and we've had high turnover both before and after his passing. It's the Tenzo's last summer and it's not been without obstacles. All and all, we're in good shape. Speaking of shape, I'm feeling great. I'm running about 25 miles a week, half up hill of course, up to elevations of 4000ft. I'm swimming about 3 miles a week, 1/2 mile at a time. That's a huge challenge for me. It's also deeply settling in a way that running is not. And otherwise, the news about the baby had a strange relieving feeling. For those who don't know, to say I was ambivalent is an understatement. Yet to hear we we're on our way reset the compass. It's just, okay! Now what? And to watch Lauren transform is radically confirming that there is so much going on and so many causes and conditions that a guy has to practice patience with the inconceivable.

Which brings me to study: This summer it's Vimilakiriti and the Heart Sutra. I'm learning the kanji for the heart sutra, the stroke order and what not, and it's a new way to engage with this text I assume I'm familiar with. Unpacking it is like learning again and again the atom is not the smallest particle in the universe, which is just to say what I think is is not. Over and over. The trick is learning how to tread water in the sea of emptiness. Least that's what I want to start doing. Just gently tread that water.

Luckily, I got to meet Red Pine and hear Kaz Tanahashi give a talk on the heart sutra. That was lucky. Encouraging. When I asked Red Pine about the proposition put forth that Bodhidharma and the other patriarchs of Zen didn't actually sit Zazen, he exclaimed, "That's just not true!" And I countered but they didn't give Zazen instruction either.

He clarified, "Just because Zen masters don't talk about taking shits doesn't mean they didn't do it. Meditation was a given."

Actually, Dogen Zenji did talk about going to the bathroom.