Tag Archives: fatherhood

spring fragment

the afternoon sun is strong
even though apple blossoms are weeks away
and only slightest hints of early-green
appear on the knoll horizon

smoke drifts from the pile of collected brush
as my father points out streaks of grey
in the stubble on my cheek

i always wonder if there is more to come

I Don’t Want My Dukkha Here

This story might be easier to write, might be simpler to read and digest, had I been writing all along about our experience living for a year in France. Had I written about the early stages of discovery, about the long settling into a different sort of Zen life (as I referred to it in my mind), then giving words to my current state might come more naturally.

But these last few days—with only weeks left before we leave what has become our home—have been filled with a question.

When does discovery become death?

We went for a hike as a family today, up a steep trail in the forest behind the town of Yzeron. The shade of the trees was welcome on this humid day. The kids gathered sticks to walk with, and Jessica and I pointed out flowers along the path. We came through clearings that held a sense of energy and mystery, and into a field of wheat that sloped down into the farthest distance, our home somewhere in between where we stood and the impossibly far-off horizon.

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I yearned for a feeling of wonder and newness, and it seemed to be just within reach—yet was somehow wrapped in discontent. Instead of the sense of discovery I expected, there was the death of a sense of ease, an intruding sadness of a bitter goodbye.

Is this another experience of the home-leaving practice of Zen?

If it is, I don’t care for it.

It’s quite different than leaving for retreat. But then, of course, I always had the sense I would be coming back. In what way was I truly leaving? Was I—in the Zen sense—having my cake and eating, too?

When we first arrived in France, everything was new. The town, our home, the language, the kids’ school, the bus routes into the city. The light, the birdsong, the scents in the air. Each morning’s run was a new discovery, each visit to the marché, each conversation was an exploration. Each season was a chance to wonder what it would bring in this new home of ours.

After a time, of course, things became familiar—but the sense of discovery persisted in the act of settling. We were becoming part of a new fabric, and a simpler (if not always simple, being so far from what was familiar) life than what we had left aided the sense of discovery even after novelty receded from the surface. For most of eleven months, this carried me and contended me.

And then, recently, almost suddenly, it has changed. Things don’t feel as they should. Encountering a new place or a new word or tradition or story feels not like discovery, but like loss, becoming sadness at what we must soon leave behind. The same experience, instead of being embodied with a sense of discovery, feels somehow diminished. Somehow thinner.

Why should a sense of losing something diminish my ability to revel in its discovery?

I can hear the words of my teachers, those alive and from centuries of lineage. There are no shoulds, especially in how we feel. And this sense of loss, this discomforting, is no surprise. This is the life of a human being and the suffering that comes with change. This is dukkha. I try to let it come. I can’t change it, after all.

But still. I don’t want my dukkha here.

After our walk, we came home and planted flowers in the small raised beds, the ones up against the stone wall with terra-cotta shingles. We pulled weeds from the ground around the beds and smoothed the gravel.

ten

it was a purple one that first caught his eye
as we walked through the field—
perhaps some sort of clover,
but i don’t know the name in french.
papa, he showed me,
adding the smallest white daisies
and a few others i don’t recognize—
a tall thin grass, and
even dandelions, too.

they might not last the car ride home,
but they’ve once been collected,
spilling gently over the edge
of the vase he made of his hand.

My first post here in more than eighteen months. I think the moments have still been with me. Perhaps I’ve been better at not becoming attached—or perhaps I’ve been neglecting to pay attention.

I Peel an Orange

Our home is a pale shade of blue,
one you might find looking west in the spring
minutes after sunrise,
or in a robin’s egg whose green tints
have been replaced by gentle grays.

It was once a deep red,
more readily apparent in recent years
from the street-facing, sun-bleached southern side,
where spots of peeling and chipping have grown
past neighborly size,

reflecting the same inertia
that has kept me from replacing
the almost imperceptibly dripping basement pipe.

I peel an orange –
the fruit itself is disappointing and dry;

my son pushes the lawnmower
back and forth across the lawn,
glancing to me each time he makes a turn.

It’s the first time I’ve stood back so far.

Touching the Heart Mind

I finished work early today,
walked out of the office
I built in my barn
into a cool afternoon.

I took the clippers from the
upstairs linen closet and
cut my hair with the shortest blade.

There were still a few errands to run
before I came to sit here in our kitchen,
distracted by house sounds and
typing out a home-leaving poem
for sesshin,

where I’ll sit with the sangha,
alone together
under autumn skies.

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birthdays, too,
hold misunderstood questions
alongside bright smile greetings.

at the end of the day,
I stayed late at the Temple
to water Roshi’s flowers.

oceans of bright clouds,
oceans of solemn clouds.

The final couplet comes from the words of Dogen in our school’s translation of the Ninth Precept.

Lazy Ovals

I’ve scolded my son for riding
the old green bike
(the one with training wheels that used to be his)
when he runs to get it before his little brother can,
riding it gleefully away from him.

Today, though, his brother wasn’t home;
so he pedaled slowly
around the driveway, pulled gently
at the duct-taped edge of the handle
as he rode.
I heard him talking softly to himself and
humming as he made lazy ovals
in the bright sunshine.

He kept going
until his sister called to him from the porch,
asked him what he was doing.

I heard the first words of the story
he began to make up,
then turned away so I wouldn’t
hear the end.

Earnest Offering

I’ve gone through half an eraser;
there’s some danger I might believe
that the thoughts I used to have
were better,

the way they made images
when captured in my notebook.
So much more evasive now,
I struggle to evaluate their worth.

The night insects, though,
make their earnest offering
through open August windows —
calling and calling.

But it is all just noise —
I sit distracted

by the tears
my son couldn’t show me
when we argued this afternoon,

by the cars outside
moving too quickly down the hill.

Six

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he knows now how to read.
he won’t pass through kindergarten again.

he won’t bring home another packet of sight words,
tape them to the wall
over his largely-unmade bed,
lie in the darkness,
read them by flashlight.

that moment,
that emerging,
that world,
that lifetime,

that he-and-I
is gone —

and I want it back.

Buddhism might one day free me from suffering, but not from being human. If anything, I feel my joy, my sadness, anguish, loneliness and contentment more acutely. Buddhism promises the possibility of welcoming each one. It has taught me, even, to welcome my attachments, to not run away from even my clinging.

My relief from suffering, when it arises, comes not from stoicism. Instead, it arrives when I allow the joy and dukkha that are the essence of fatherhood to be together. It comes when I turn and face them both and say, Yes, all of this. This is now. This is fatherhood. The wanting and the letting go. This is love. This is it. All of this. This is it.

Does a Stone Have Buddha Nature?

My kids don’t often come with me to the Temple. Given its significance in my life, I often regret that the place and its people feel a bit foreign to them. Yet they looked comfortable as I watched them run ahead of me down the old brick path on the grounds early this afternoon. I would have expected an impulse to quiet or calm them, but it never arose. I caught up and we walked the twisting path together.

We were there so that I could install a piece of stone sculpture that I had done for an upcoming art exhibit. The rain was falling softly on a day that felt too chilly for late April, which made the early green of the spring seem even deeper and richer.

Working in stone is a new creative endeavor. For the last year, there have been piles of it lying across the ground in front of our barn as I have constructed a stone wall along one side of our property. As I shaped a few pieces for the wall with a chisel and point last summer, it occurred to me that perhaps I should shape a piece for something more than utility.

I began to carve a bowl out of a large piece of granite that had an almost glass-flat top. With everything I have felt the need to accomplish, there was really no cause for taking up a project with such a long timeline and that would result in, well, still having a rock sitting on the ground.

Often, as I coaxed out small pieces of stone, the bowl didn’t seem to get any bigger. Perhaps for a moment it would, as a chip or flake flew, but then the shallowness of the bowl would predominate in my attention. I worried that even if I were able to approximate the right shape, I wouldn’t know how to finish the job, know how to smooth the inside to match the image in my mind of how it should be.

Yet I kept working well into autumn. When winter approached and snow began to fall, I rigged up a small sled out of an old barrel cover in order to slide the stone into the barn; it is too heavy to simply lift and move. While I moved it because I had intentions of continuing to work the stone during winter, it sat in the barn mostly idle, between the chicken coop and the kids’ bikes stored for the winter.

I passed by it often and began to wonder if it would always sit there, unfinished.

The first time I tried to pull it out of the barn this spring, I used the same sled on which it had moved across ice and packed snow in the late fall. On the dry barn floor, though, there was too much friction, and the sled only tipped up as I pulled on the rope, sending me backwards to fall hard on a body that has been feeling suddenly older.

As I looked up from the floor, the stone simply sat – and I began to realize that that is what it does. It accepted my dissatisfaction and sat with me.

Days later, when I did manage to move it out of the barn into a pale but warming spring sun, it sat with me there, too, reflecting my growing acceptance that the bowl might never be exactly what I expected.

Sitting outdoors in a hard spring rain, the emerging bowl filled with water and overflowed. A small stick blown by a blustery wind came to rest in the bowl, and the stone didn’t question its arrival.

It listened as my daughter and talked about what I might do next to shape it, or how on earth I was planning to move it, and received them.

It sat still yesterday as I alternated sandpaper, water, and a blowtorch across its surface, and allowed me the space to work without knowing the effect of my efforts.

The stone became my teacher.

Its Buddha nature is clear and bright. For what else is our Buddha nature, but our receiving and reflecting of what the universe has to offer?

Right now, it sits at the edge of a path at the Temple, in the company of wet ground and early-spring growth. Drips from the trees above are falling into its bowl, and it is welcoming each of them. When the sun rises, it will receive that light and grow warm.

As we left the installation, I wondered aloud to my youngest as he shivered why he didn’t put up his hood. My children argued gently about who would have the chance to roll the dolly (which had carried the stone to its resting place) back up the brick path, and I introduced them all to a beloved sangha mate.

“You’ve got your whole crew here, huh?” he said, eyes bright and laughing as we hugged.

“I do,” I responded as my children and I walked back through the rain to head for home.

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Sitting and receiving on the Temple grounds