I INVITE BEAU, now four, to lunch. I want him to meet my good friend Koho, who is visiting from Detroit. I haven’t seen Koho for several years. He is busy in his role as the guiding teacher for Detroit’s Still Point Zen Buddhist Temple. Meanwhile I have been perfecting the fine art of living close to the ground. This includes a traveling pattern that is limited to a two-state radius. Since I don’t know when I’ll see him next, I’m eager for him to meet my family.
Koho and Beau have much in common. Both are great storytellers with quick, big laughs. Each has a fine intelligence that registers as an intensity radiating from their bodies. They share a love of riding bicycles as fast as they can. Koho rides in races where spectators shout insults and offer hand-ups to racers that range from water, beer, and money to—wait for it—bacon. Beau races to the end of his driveway and back. They can both quote SpongeBob SquarePants.
Beau accepts my invitation.
After we work on a tortilla casserole for about 20 minutes at lunch, he has had enough of the visiting: “Grandmom, could you read me my SpongeBob SquarePants coloring book?”
I can and I do. When we take a break after the second reading, I ask him if he likes Koho. Watching him carefully considering the question, I melt. I love this little boy beyond words. In this moment, if someone, anyone, said to me, “To save this boy’s life you have to give up yours,” I’d offer myself up before he or she was done speaking. As I look at him with his slightly tortilla-inked fingers (my fault), this feeling expands until I realize that it includes all children. It’s why I weep every time I hear the story of a child who has been harmed. It is why I can’t even think about child abuse without feeling sick. Every child is somebody’s Beau.
One of Zen Buddhism’s most famous koans is about this kind of love. Its story is about a temple cat. All the monks living in the temple absolutely adore it. The problem is that they keep fighting over it. The monks from the eastern hall want it to live there. The monks from the western hall insist that theirs is the better spot. They even scrap during meditation periods. Finally, their teacher, a Zen master named Nan-chu’an, has had it. He grabs the cat and holds it up. Then he shouts at them: “Give me one word, and I will save this cat! If you cannot, I will kill it!”
While I can’t imagine a Zen master ever killing a cat, I don’t doubt that Nan-chu’an was pretty put off that none of the monks responded in a way that could have saved the cat. So the question that Zen teachers ask their students these days is this: “How would you have responded to Nan-chu’an?”
With a Beau in your life, the answer bursts forth. There is only one thing to do, and you do it. But there’s more. The minute you realize what you would do to save that cat is the minute you realize that you want to do the same for any cat, any child, any tree, or any ocean. You’d offer up you.
This is where true intimacy resides. —S&H
A Prayer of Loving Kindness
One exercise that helps me to stay centered in all of the comings and goings of the world is to recite a prayer of loving kindness. Here is a simple version:
- May my family be happy and at peace.
- May my friends and neighbors be happy and at peace.
- May everyone in this community be happy and at peace.
- May this country be happy and at peace.
- May all countries be happy and at peace.
- May all beings be happy and at peace.
- Please include the little dust mote affectionately known as “me” in this wish.
Although it may seem silly, say this little prayer softly to yourself a couple of times. You might find that the world takes on a lighter energy, problems start to feel more solvable, and gratitude surfaces more easily.