So I was walking to the office the other day, when something rather lovely happened.
Before I say what that was, I have to explain that walking to the office is a new thing for me — or the rediscovery of an old thing. Now before I entered a spell of working from home, I often used to make my morning “walking commute” into a walking meditation. Then, for several years, I did almost all of my work out of the house, and my daily walking meditation died away. But a couple of months ago I rented an office in town, only a 15 minute walk away, and I’m getting back into the habit of making my trip to the office into a meditation practice. I confess that it’s been taking a bit of time for the habit to kick in again.
So I sallied forth from the house after my ritual farewell to the family (it really is a ritual — I have to give everyone a hug, a kiss, and a high five before I’m allowed to leave), and of course my mind immediately went onto a journey of its own, as I recalled recent events, thought about my schedule, planned projects I’m working on, and for good measure worried a little about finances. Not very mindful!
And then, I remembered that I was missing an opportunity to pay attention to my physical and mental experience. I was missing an opportunity to be mindful, to make walking to work into a meditation practice rather than the practice of allowing an endless proliferation of thoughts.
So I brought my awareness into the sensations of my body, and that’s when the funny thing happened. It’s something that’s happened before, but every time it does happen it’s wonderful. Suddenly, my walking meditation practice “clicked.” And I found myself looking into my experience with pure, unconditional love. And then I realized that everything I needed in order to be completely fulfilled was contained within that present moment, and all I had to do was notice and appreciate it. Any thinking that I did was going to take me away from perfection, and why would I want to do that? And so my thinking pretty much ground to a halt. The odd thought would pop up, but I’d immediately realize that thinking compared to “just being” in the same way that eating chalk compares to eating cheesecake. One is rich and delightful, the other is dry and unsatisfying. So I just didn’t have any desire to get caught up in thinking, and just stayed with the experience of observing sensations, feelings, emotions, and thoughts coming into being.
Until the “click” took place, I’d been observing my experience all right, but I’d been eating “chalk” rather than “cheesecake.” My mindfulness had been a bit dry, a bit cold. Now was gazing with warmth into my experience. My gaze was appreciative, and it was responded to with a physical sense of delight. My body responded to this loving gaze by relaxing, and by releasing pleasant, tingling energy. And my heart responded with delight. It was as if, as I loved my experience, my experience loved me back.
I recognized this gaze. It’s the way I look at my kids (on a good day). Both my children are still quite young. My daughter’s five, and my son’s three. And they’re both very interesting characters, and very sweet (well, most of the time). I frequently find that when I look at them it’s with a sense of warm, appreciative, unconditional love — and with wonder, too.
But I forget to do that with myself. I tend to be too task-oriented. I tend to be too concerned about what needs to be done. And I forget to love myself.
So this experience was a lovely reminder of the well-being that can come from giving myself loving attention. It was a welcome reminder that true wellbeing lies in valuing and surrendering to the present moment.
Dogen’s saying is pointing to the same experience. His words come from advice written for monastery cooks, for whom working with rice and water was a mindfulness practice (“the mind which finds the Way actualizes itself through working with rolled up sleeves”). Being mindful of working with rice and water doesn’t mean simply noticing your experience as you fill pots and stir ingredients. It means, Dogen says, imbuing every moment with a love as powerful as that of a parent for a child.
Right now I’m typing on a laptop, and gazing into my experience (my body, the screen in front of me, the keyboard) with love. And the present moment is complete, and fulfilling. That’s my rice, my water. What’s yours?
The “quote” above is actually an adaptation of Eihei Dōgen zenji’s words in Tenzo kyokun: Instructions for the Tenzo, translated by Yasuda Joshu Dainen Roshi and Anzan Hoshin Roshi, published in “Cooking Zen” (Great Matter Publications 1996).
A “motherly heart” is a heart which maintains the Three Jewels as a parent cares for a child. A parent raises a child with deep love, regardless of poverty or difficulties. Their hearts cannot be understood by another; only a parent can understand it. A parent protects their child from heat or cold before worrying about whether they themselves are hot or cold. This kind of care can only be understood by those who have given rise to it and realized only by those who practice it. This, brought to its fullest, is how you must care for water and rice, as though they were your own children.