Pock! Pock! Pock! Pock! The Japanese “woodenfish” drum makes a sharp, hollow sound, like a huge, deliberate woodpecker in still air. In Zen monasteries it is used to establish a tempo so that an assembly of people can chant in unison. Last weekend, I heard it used to call a group to meditation, to meals, to readings and discussions. Although the woodenfish drum wasn’t used in a traditional Zen way, the spirit was the same. Because fish do not have eyelids, their eyes are always open. The woodenfish is a symbol of the unceasing effort to wake up, of the awakening to our true manifestations that is possible only in community.
The first time I was drawn to practice in a group, I was in my early twenties and working in publishing in Manhattan. I remember coming back to my apartment one evening, feeling thoroughly fed up with what I was doing with my life. For whatever reason or combination of reasons, there was a sudden and piercing clarity that my whole identity revolved around seeking comfort and security, worthiness and powerfulness.
There followed a powerful interest like a parting in the clouds: Who was I really, not measured in this small way, but as a human being in the cosmos? This wasn’t a dreamy aimless kind of question. There was a very pure impulse to investigate, a willingness and determination to find out I could find my way to a larger life. I was haunted by the sense that my life could just melt away like a dream, that it was possible that I might never really know I had been alive in a profound way.
I knew I needed the help of a group and eventually I found one. Many years later, I stopped being part of it when I realized I had lost that original questioning, when I couldn’t hear it any more through the din of ideas. I left when I realized it had become business as usual for me, that the pure wonderment had given way to another ego identity. Being part of something larger had become a new way to comfortable and secure, worthy and capable–a new way to cover up what a Zen teacher has called “the anxious quiver of being.”
Now I’m back in a group. But now I know I have to bring something, an intention to see myself as am…it can be painful and scary at times but I begin to see that behind the curtain of separation, there is a great stillness and an energy we all share.
Today, because it is cold and gloomy and the wind blowing, I am attaching a link to a story by Richard Whittaker, our West Coast editor. It is a story about how far a man can go all by himself, without a group or a way to guide him. http://conversations.org/story.php?sid=141