I'm just back from a two hour run in North Stonington. I get two hours to myself every other Thursday while the kids go to Farm Class at Terra Firma Farm. Amazingly wonderful place. The kids get to hold baby goats, collect eggs, chase chickens and ducks, sidle up to newborn calves and treat the donkeys and sheep to handfuls of compressed hay. All the lost arts.
And I get a good solid block of time to run.
Today my friend Karen joined me for the first hour. I adore Karen. She is Kindness Itself. She is the loveliest, most caring, easiest person in the world. And she's down in the dumps. Why does depression always hit the best people? Why? Why? WHY?
So I talked. I talked about our home school. About Nell's swimming and horse riding successes. About Simon's Buddha Nature. About Ben's (shall we say) personality. Ben is a darling boy. He is the cuddliest of the kids, the sweetest ("I just love you, Mom"), the most hyper and the most challenging. We are all going to be riding in Ben's wake someday.
But not yet.
I talked about my new book, Doubt: A History. Karen is the type of person who can get excited about doubt. We decided that we'd like to be centered, but we don't want to lose our edge. Judith Warner, in last week's Domestic Disturbances column in the NYT, said that centered, "mindful" people are boring. We don't want to be boring. We just want to stay calm. Mostly.
During the second hour I listened to Alan Watts on the iPod. The Essence of Zen.
I wish I had an iPod while I was in college. I can listen so much better while I am trotting along at a moderate, manageable pace. I could have downloaded all of my textbooks, run all day, and made Phi Beta Kappa easy peasy lemon squeazy.
Alas. I frittered away the time in stuffy lecture halls absorbing next to nothing. But I must say, I had the time of my life.
Here, according to Alan Watts, is the essence of Zen.
Sitting quietly. Doing nothing.
The grass grows.
The idea is to connect your own lively mind to the entire universe. To understand that you are not just PART of the universe, but that you ARE the universe. Everything is of a piece. You cannot observe yourself thinking. You must shut off that "other mind." And meld into space.
The goal of Zen (but goal, of course, is the wrong word) is to break down the distinction between subject and object. To just be. To go forth into the world like a fish swims through water.
I can sometimes get there while I'm running. I am my feet, the trail, the air. My sweat is the heat. My body is the air. The moon. The universe.
Zen masters are funny. Actually funny. They tell funny little stories and instantly enlighten each other. They laugh from their bellies and they are enlightened.
This merits further study.
Though the idea of "studying" Zen is absurd.
I'll just listen. And be.