“Each of you is perfect the way you are … and you can use a little improvement.” ― Shunryu Suzuki
Happy new year, we say, as the earth, at a hundred thousand miles an hour, whips a full ellipse around the sun. Happy new day, headlines claim, in whatever side sees the starshine and billions of beings blink on, rub their eyes, and stare at the ceiling as if it was the start of something.
One of my favourite koans to puzzle over took place between Hyakujo and Baso, who startled some wild geese as they walked by. “Where did they go,” Baso asked his student. “They flew away, Master”, Hyakujo answered. Baso grabbed Hyakujo’s nose, twisted it. “They didn’t go anywhere!” he yelled. At this, Hyakujo had a realization: he needed a change. Get a girlfriend or something. Hanging out with Baso was getting weird.
The whole world is shouting. Baso, the tap of your heart, the purr of planes overhead. Every movement an arrow towards some unfound place, reminding us that we have always been here, like the geese.
Happy new instant.
It’s always been this way. The world’s always been on fire, fear about to outpace hope, love seemingly swallowed by death, our darkest notions locked ferociously to our brightest nature, the power to illuminate ourselves married to the one to immolate. And yet we are here, all of us, together, always have been despite a million odds against it. So what do we do?
Pay attention. That’s it, really. To our experience, what beats through our body, for it has lived a million million times, and is right now, whether we will it or not, catapulting us all like bright, hot stars into a place more beautiful and terrific than our deepest dream.
We devote January, at the CEC, to concentration, the eternal beginning. We spend the month pouring our attention at our attention, directing it again and again towards the spot, falling forever in front, where each beginning is welded to its end, perfect as it is.
And in need of improvement. Our lives, the relationships that make them. The mud from our past clinging to our cleanest feeling. The planet, its hurt rivers and oceans. It’s ok, don’t worry, we’ll get there. If we pay attention, we can see that what we need has always been at hand.
Once, I watched Thich Nhat Hanh explain death to a dervish of 5 year olds. They twisted, wrestling, at his feet. He smiled, took a matchbox from the table next to him, struck it aflame.
“This fire is your father,” he said. They stopped, panting.
“And, this candle is you” he added, pointing at one on the table beside him. He held the match as it burned down, and with the last of the fire, lit the wick, set it down on the lip of the candle holder until it sputtered flat.
“So, is your father dead, or is he alive in you?”
Alive. Alive. Alive.
He went on. Clouds, rain, river, his tea. He took a sip. No beginning, no end, only this. They understood.
“Now go play.”
He turned his attention to us, the children who knew too much.
School starts Monday, explorers. Now go play.