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sunday poem

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Feeling deeply appreciated and nourished by the comments to my previous post, I dip into The poetry of Zen* —

Whatever it is,
I cannot understand it,
although gratitude
stubbornly overcomes me
until I’m reduced to tears.

* by Saigyō Hōshi (西行 法師, 1118–1190) in Hamill, S., & Seaton, J. P. (2007). (trans.). Boston: Shambhala, p. 112. image: “Old Man Weeping” after Van Gogh by Gordon Christie when he was still a teenager.



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Our meditation group gathered for a birthday party yesterday. How wonderful to be fussed over, with home-made offerings and the world’s best chocolate cake, abundant flowers arranged in vases that hadn’t been used for ages, someone preparing a plate and pouring me a little Shiraz — all so I could sit back and enjoy happy chatter and loving company.

In a collections of essays, the head of a Japanese training temple for female Zen priests tells of a time when the gardener reported that “the tomatoes look so good and the apples are beginning to turn red.” To which a visiting teacher was heard to murmur, “No matter what food you’re blessed with, if you weren’t blessed with an appetite too, wouldn’t you be in a bad way?”

At first blush, a simplistic observation, and then it hits me. I take it for granted to celebrate a birthday, to have people visit, to enjoy food and drink and flowers … and, even more fundamentally, to have the appreciation and appetite to take it all in. How many times have I sat at the bedside and, seeing a dinner tray or juicy fruit sitting untouched, wanted the urge the patient to take a little bite, to just “eat something.” So basic: without appetite even the most delicious offering holds no appeal — with the capacity to appreciate, even the simplest offering becomes a feast. Deep bows.

source: Aoyama, S. (1983/1990). Zen seeds: reflections of a female priest. Tokyo: Kosei Publishing Co., p. 23. image: