Words of wisdom, Boston, MA

Just in case you thought God was dead, here’s proof that the Supreme Deity is still roaming the greater Boston area with a piece of chalk. Apparently God and Zen Master Seung Sahn have a lot in common teaching-wise since the latter is always exhorting his students to “Find your true self and save all beings from suffering.” Personally, I’ve always deemed the latter task to be beyond my humble powers, so I’d be content to achieve merely the former. I figure that if and when I find my True Self, the “All Beings” part will take care of itself.

I suppose that finding your True Self is more difficult than this chalked message would have you think: I’ve known Zen students who have spent most of their adult lives on this single, seemingly simple quest. Unlike pursuits which have a defineable End, Zen practice is an ongoing process: at every and all moments, the task is to “Find what you are and love it.” Even enlightenment, the ultimate carrot luring many a jackass practitioner, isn’t an end-all or be-all proposition. Just the other night, my friend Jane Dobisz (aka Zen Master Bon Yeong) told a roomful of curious seekers that enlightenment is like the life-cycle of a peach tree: first seed, then sprout, tree, flower, green fruit, ripe fruit, fallen fruit, decayed fruit, then once again seed. The problem with our acquisitive mind, Jane explained, is that we fixate on one particular moment in this life-cycle: we imagine that the moment when the fruit ripens and falls is the moment when enlightenment occurs. This fixation then leads us to underplay all the other wonderful moments that make up the process called “peach.”

Those of you who’ve read my introduction to Zen meditation know that Zen is nothing more than what you are doing at any given moment. At one moment, Zen is reading this blog-entry; at the next moment, Zen is checking your email. Moment by moment, each thing is complete; moment by moment, we try to attain that mind. And so “Find what you are and love it” could be phrased as “Find what you are and DO IT”: whenever and wherever you do something (and whatever it is that you do), simply do it. In that and every moment, you’ll find your True Self is always right in front of you.

Lorianne at the Greenhouse Cafe, Cambridge, MA

And so with this notion that my True Self is always right in front of me, I’m dedicating this blurry self-portrait to my friend Tom Montag, who commented several days ago on the scowling expression in one of my reflective images. For some reason, I have a difficult time smiling when I’m taking my own picture: because I’m concentrating my feeble photographic powers on capturing a semi-decent image, I invariably forget to pose for the camera. When I do remember to smile, like in this shot, I always seem to take a blurry image: for good or ill, I can’t seem to smile and take pictures at the same time. (I took this particular image in the Greenhouse Cafe in Harvard Square, where I’ve never succeeded in taking a decent reflective image even though I eat there every time I’m in Cambridge and an entire wall of the restaurant is mirrored.) So, is my True Self a smiling self or a scowling self, is it blurry or sharp, and does it take pictures or have it’s own picture taken? Whichever option you choose, “Find what you are and love it” still applies. Just don’t forget to smile.

    Although I took very few photos while I was in Boston last week, luckily Ron Cillizza of du jour recently posted many interesting photos from his recent trip to Bean Town. I wonder whether Ron smiles when he’s photographing?