Reflections, The Artful Hand Gallery, Copley Place, Boston

I returned to Keene from Boston on Saturday, took Sunday off from teaching, writing, and blogging, and now am back in the saddle again. While I was in Boston, I carried both my digicam and my pencam, but I took very few pictures. Indeed, I consciously gave myself an official shutterbugging hiatus; although both cameras were on hand if I saw something I absolutely had to capture, I consciously tried to keep my attention in the moment rather than focusing on how that moment could be captured and potentially blogged.

Reflections, The Artful Hand Gallery, Copley Place, Boston

One shop where I couldn’t help but snap a handful of pencam images was the Artful Hand Gallery in Boston’s Copley Place mall. The Artful Hand is precisely the kind of shop I love to browse. It’s full of fun, funky, handmade objects by local artisans: one-of-a-kind furniture, pottery, glassware. And it has lots and lots of mirrors, all of them framed with hand-crafted, intricately decorated wood, tile, and metalwork frames. Besides being a delight to the eye, the Artful Hand is a mecca for fans of reflective photography. So although I’ve submitted three of these pictures to the Mirror Project, I’ve posted them here, too, so you can see larger versions of them. (Click on any of today’s images to see an enlarged version.)

In Zen, we often talk about having a mind that is clear like a mirror: red comes, only red; blue comes, only blue. This means in any given moment we strive to respond only to that moment, our perception unclouded by the residue of the past nor the wisps of the future. When I arrived at the Cambridge Zen Center on Wednesday night, I was surprised to learn that Zen Master Bon Haeng (aka Mark Houghton) wanted me to give consulting interviews to the people who had come to Wednesday evening practice. Never having given consulting interviews before, I had a moment of panic and self-doubt: what if someone asks me a question I can’t answer? What if a problem arises that I can’t handle?

Reflections, The Artful Hand Gallery, Copley Place, Boston

In the split second in which I could have said, “No” (an answer that Zen Master Mark wouldn’t have taken anyway), I fully reflected “panic mind”: when panic comes, only panic. But in the next split second, the mirror flashed clean: no problem. A clear mirror doesn’t have to know the right answer to any given question: a clear mirror doesn’t have to know anything. And so on Wednesday night a somewhat shaky, entirely uncertain Zen Mama sat next to a rock-solid veteran Zen Master as a dozen-some practitioners entered the interview room one by one to reflect their mind. “Consulting interviews aren’t about teaching anything,” Zen Master Mark had reminded me. “They’re simply about sharing an experience in the moment.”

And he, of course, was right. During each interview I followed my breath, trying to center my attention not on my racing thoughts (“What should I say?”) nor on my pounding heart (“Panic! Run away!”) but on my own rock-solid center, my breathing belly, the True Self that doesn’t need to know anything. Moment by moment, faces came and went, each reflecting a different color of human experience: a shy-smiling woman who struggled to find strength; a sad-faced man who struggled to quiet his restless body; an acquaintance who shared a particularly traumatic challenge he’s facing, a situation that stunned me with the level of pain it involves and the simple fact he felt comfortable sharing that pain. Humans are vulnerable creatures: our hopes, tragedies, and joys are written in tender, one-of-a-kind lines on each of our fragile faces. When pain comes, where can we find solace? When joy comes, where can we share?

Reflections, The Artful Hand Gallery, Copley Place, Boston

When sadness comes, only reflect sadness; when joy comes, only joy. In my own experience sitting on the other side of the interview room cushion, the teachers I’ve appreciated the most are the ones who didn’t try to teach anything: when I entered the room with a troubling problem, riddling question, or just plain and simple pain, they only tried to reflect (and be present with) that mind. Sometimes the simplest statements are the most profound: “I’m so sorry” or “How can I help?” And sometimes the best answer is silence, the courage (and centeredness) to simply sit with someone who is suffering, saying all there is to say through the unspoken language of presence: “I’m here, I’m not judging nor rejecting you, and I’m not running away.” The world is full of mirrors that reflect our bodies; where do we find compassionate companions who in a moment are courageous enough to reflect our fragile souls? If you find such an artful hand, buy and then cherish it at any cost: such a clear-shining mirror is truly one-of-a-kind.