Striding Off The Hundred-Foot Pole

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Irwin starts out on a journey, sometimes not even consciously starting on a journey. So you get these stories like the beautiful maiden playing with a lovely golden sphere in the backyard of her castle or her home, wherever she is. And the ball rolls away, goes down the hill, and she chases after it and winds up. in a forest of confusion and she cannot find her way back home. So she's been sort of thrust into the journey. Some people more consciously set out on a journey to find the knights in the Middle Ages were looking for the Holy Grail. Psyche was looking for her true love to see in the light. People search for their purpose of their life, their soul partner there, for God.


Buddha went on a search for the end of suffering, possible causes and end of suffering, as we can say, as a grail. And as we know from Buddha's life, and certainly from our own in doing and just being involved in practice deeply, that there are on this journey, many, many false trails, little byways that take you down, not quite a useful directionality of growth, many hindrances. There can be people along the way that are hindrances or challenges or trials. Probably the most famous of the trials would be Hercules doing things like cleaning the Aegean stables. I mean trials, we're talking here. That's one side of the equation of the first half of the journey.


The other component of that is all the helpers that are present along the way. So depending on the myth you're reading or the story you're reading, it can be birds dropping crumbs or a little elderly man or woman whose elbow was pointed this way or any other thing. Sometimes when we speak, especially of the hero's journey, we tend to speak of it as I did it my way, sort of a Frank Sinatra version of getting to the top. The more feminine version already acknowledges no way that's happening. There's simply no way that we do anything without the support and help of others on the quest. Okay, so that's the outline. that Joseph Campbell presents to us. Djoser says that Eosho's enlightenment is not yet the real thing.


So my understanding of his meaning is that Eosho is clinging to, he's attached to his enlightenment, which is the pitfall of any practice. In our language, we sometimes call this the stink of Zen. So the gold of the experience turns to ash because it's being clutched, it's being held, it isn't allowed motion and air. And the great temptation, and it's probably close to universal, I think, is to hold on, is to, it's so heavenly to come into this place. that we want to stay there, want to rest. Shakyamuni Buddha stayed under the Bodhi tree a while himself. I mean, it's something that happens. We do this. However, it can cause problems.


So William Blake, you probably know this very short poem, four lines, and he kind of says the whole thing. He who doth bind to himself a joy, doth the winged life destroy. He who kisses the joy as it flies, lives in eternity's sunrise. Yes. He who doth bind to himself a joy doth the winged life destroy. He who kisses the joy as it flies lives in eternity's sunrise. Yeah. You could hang out with that a while. It's quite lovely, isn't it? So finding this Holy Grail, finding enlightenment is not the end of the journey.


So the return to the everyday world and finding the ways to share the grail is the true return of the heroine and an equally challenging part of the journey. How to even describe this, this sort of ineffable wordless experience, how to translate it, how to say it, how to speak of the possible end of suffering for people who may very well be starved for the Dharma, we say. but don't have a clue about how to begin a path. How do we, how do we speak to this? There's a quote from Joseph Campbell that I have loved a long time. He says, he translates this problem, how to render into light world language, the speech defying pronouncements of the dark. Isn't that lovely? How to render into light world language the speech-defying pronouncements of the dark.


In Zen, we're a little more succinct. We sometimes speak about the finger pointing to the moon, which is not the moon, the finger pointing to the moon. So Chosha's challenge, that's a good one, Chosha's challenge to us is how do we live this enlightenment? How do we embody it? How do we manifest it? How do we speak of this speech-defying wisdom of the end of suffering, even as our vow is to serve all sentient beings? When I started at the Zen Center in LA, our chant used to be, sentient beings are numberless, we vow to save them all. Now we just say serve. Anyway, that's plenty good. The monk asks for all of us, how do you advance a step?


I would say that another way to say it would be how do we trust the paradox that to drop any clinging to spiritual gain is to manifest it. So in the ox-herding pictures, which are a series of ten pictures describing an ox-herder who is in search of the grail of enlightenment, and in the It could be a herd dress if there's such a thing, an ox herd dress. At any rate, the ox herder in the ninth picture of ten is self-disappears. He's enlightened. And in the tenth picture, he's depicted as returning to the marketplace. I love this phrase, with bliss-bestowing hands.


Very lovely. Putting his wisdom at the service of all sentient beings. For me, it's important that he or she is often depicted as covered with dust and sweat, in very mundane basic clothing, living in a humble fashion, and sharing the joys and sorrows of the world he's inhabiting. but from a very other place, we can say. So she could be described as a sacred fool who stepped off the pole, or a bodhisattva, putting her wisdom at the service of all sentient beings and bestowing bliss in her everyday life. So I think She is asking, he, she is asking always, what's needed now?


What's here now? What does this moment call forth? And then she responds. So for me, this is the step off the pole. This is the jump, in the koan, the stride off the hundred foot pole. stepping forth with a great stride into the moment and what it presents, fully, wholeheartedly, nin-nin, body-mind, right now. So as I reflect on this koan in relation to my life now and my practice, I love this poem. I have the feeling I could study this one until the end of my life, and depending on how things go, into the next one. I find it, it's also a beautiful translation.


If there's time, I want to read the appreciatory verse of it. So for me, As some of you know, I moved here, it's really hard for me to believe it's four years ago now. And I've made several moves, big moves before in my life, but they were always, I was always considerably younger and working full-time, which makes a big difference. This move came at a time in my life when I had just moved out of the Zen Center of Los Angeles After living there for 11 years and being a student there for 16, my paid work as a therapist had been come to a close and the work I had been doing as chaplain also came to a close. And I stopped, 15 years didn't I worked as a Buddhist chaplain in the LA jails for 15 years and that came to a close.


So I was in all kinds of transitions at one time. And my daughter and my daughter-in-law as I was mulling all this over, said, well, to add to my considerations, why don't you move up here? We'd love to have you nearby, which is a lovely offer to get from your family. And we're considering creating our own family. We're going to have children and you can be a hands-on grandmother. Don't have to hear that one twice. But I came up here and I didn't know anybody. I actually did not know, besides my daughter, and daughter and I didn't know one person here. So, I tend to be pretty good at finding my way in new situations because I've learned to follow my own passions were really the things that draw me knowing that I will find like-minded people.


So first I searched for a Zen center. I visited every Zen center in this area, which trust me is a lot of visiting. In LA, they say you trip over waiters and actors, and in Berkeley, you trip over Zen students and centers, I think. At any rate, so I found this Zen center. And I write poetry, so I found three poetry groups that I'm part of. I was told by somebody who knew I had been a chaplain about the Threshold Choir, which sings for people at the beginning of life, and sometimes the end of life, at the beginning of life, and also at the end of life. So I joined that choir, which I have loved very, very much. And I've made friends, and I've found my way here, and I'm happy to be here.


I'm happy to say now, I'm happy to be here. It took a while for me to earn that. I missed L.A. hugely. Still do. Not the same way though. And so I feel like I'm well met here, and I'm happy about that. That said, life changes, and situations change. So now, it's interesting, when I go back to LA, what I call my LA, my people, my ocean, my Zen center, my LA, two of my best friends have died in the last year. And a third has moved with her husband who has dementia back east to family. That's a lot of my LA not present. I was recently, I stay connected, very connected with the Zen Center and I'm on, still serve on some things, committees, programs there.


But the last time I was down was for the descending of the abbot seat by Roshi Egeokunukau. And the ascending of the Abbot seat by a Dharma sister of mine, we came to the Zen Center in the same month, in 2000. So it was a very momentous, important occasion. And were I still living there, I would have been in the midst of all the brew and what was happening. And I helped in the kitchen. I did what I saw needed helping with. But it was very clear I was a guest, a very beloved guest. I feel very cherished there. And I cherish many people there. And I was a guest. That's not home plate, so to speak, now. That's very different. So, let's see what else has changed here.


That really represents a change and a letting go. Then it turns out that my daughter and daughter-in-law have decided not to have children, so that I'm not going to be a grandmother. If anybody has grandchildren to rent, I'm your person. I'm on call 24-7. So the experiences of not rolled, not rolled, being unrolled. I am still a mother, but I'm a mother of a wonderful adult daughter, and the relationship is one of deep play and connection and friendship and love, and we're even going to do a mother-daughter workshop together. She's also a clinician, so it's very exciting for me. a delight that this kind of connection is possible.


It's a great joy of my life. I'm not a chaplain now. I'm not a therapist now. I'm not married at this time nor partnered. I have some non-life-threatening but chronic physical conditions that I have to work with on a daily basis that are challenging, I can say. I love to take naps. I've just discovered naps. I take them maybe once a week and they're the best game in town. I don't know why I don't do it more. I look in the mirror and this is one of the things many people in my cohort describe is this sensation. I look in the mirror and it's not a judging look in the mirror. It's a look of, it's not like, oh my God, there's another wrinkle kind of look. It's a kind of seeing what's in the mirror. And then the discrepancy between what I see and the fact that I, inside myself, I feel without age, virtually ageless.


So it's very interesting. a play between that I find very fascinating. Let's see, what else do I want to say here? So I had an accident last December, the end of December, and for the first few weeks I really needed to, I wasn't very mobile, literally at all, and so I had to lie very quietly, and in a kind of, liminal state, and it was an extraordinary and precious time for me. It was like a time out of mind and a, this is one of those places it's hard to talk about, an indwelling quiet. that was very special to me. I wasn't a doing place at all. It was just a being present place, just a quiet, loving silence and quiet place.


So age and aging is still kind of uncharted territory. We have lots of books on retirement planning and writing your advanced directive and how to live out your years with good health and eating right and all kinds of suggested directives. It's fine. No problem with that. How to handle your finances, how to plan, how to But health and decrements are not the same. And we have them, and the pattern of our lives is very different than all the other stages, which are fairly well graphed, you can say. There's a lot written about them. We kind of know what happens and theoretically what happens, although there are variations on the theme. But we really don't know.


This is uncharted. People are living. years and years older, in health, in good health, and then in not good health. That's a whole changing demographic in itself. I went on a windjammer cruise about, I don't know how long ago now, maybe 30 years ago. And I have claustrophobia, so I had to sleep on the deck at night, but everybody else was sleeping below decks in where the sailors used to sleep. Those bunks were made for people who were five foot five. That's a change. demographics, among other things. So I think the challenge of my life in this time At this age, at this stage, is to keep just stepping off the pole in not knowing. There's so much I don't know. So much is not charted for me.


It's not set up in any role whatsoever. And to just keep asking like the ox herder, what's needed now? What's this moment calling forth without any title or job description? At the moment I'm writing my memoirs at the request of my daughter and it's turning out to be absolutely delicious to do. I'm remembering all these people from my life, all these helpers, these wonderful teachers and Mrs. Smith from down the street. feeling into how they impacted me, how these threads in the fabric of my life connect. And I love doing this. I love the quiet times of writing. I love it when I'm writing poetry. And I'm particularly falling in love with singing at Bedside. I haven't really sung since the end of high school. I sang in a chorus in high school, and then for some reason, it dropped off for me. except in the shower or with friends yodeling away in a car or something.


But I've kind of rediscovered my voice. That is not to say I'm going to be doing anything solo with it, but I love being a member of the chorus. I love to sing. I'm learning to harmonize, which I never knew how to do before. And that's a great joy to find this way of blending voices is just quite extraordinary and because I do think music brackets our life at beginning and end. It's the way in, deeply in at the beginning and end of life. It's very dear to be with people who are dying, babies or elderly people and anywhere in between who are dying. And I know that even when they're in coma that they hear. I absolutely trust this. And I'm learning songs because of a lot of the cohort, we do sing for people in their middish, beginning to middle eighties.


So I'm learning songs that I can remember my dad humming. but never learned, like, there'll be blue birds over the white cliffs of Dover. It's lovely. So there are these very sweet songs at the time of World War II and other songs, and people respond. You can see the responses, the changes in breathing, the body easing. Every once in a while I have moments of fear, a kind of inner tightening, a wanting to fill in the space with doing something. And I understand that that's our culture. We are a doing culture and being is another thing. When I can let myself sit down in the fear of wanting to have something to hold on to,


then that's what practice helps with so deeply is that the fear moves about when it's brought to light. When I was training to be a chaplain, I was assigned to the NICU, the neonatal intensive care unit, where some babies are miraculously saved with modern medicine and some babies die. And I was a chaplain with a family whose baby was indeed dying. And I can remember it so actively in my body. I was standing there feeling like, oh God, I want to do something. I want to fix it. I was so desperate and need to fix or to do something. And my supervisor happened to be walking through the ward and he knew me very well. He saw my face. He saw my body constriction. He was this huge tall man and he came over and he said in a very quiet voice, do nothing.


Just be present. Do nothing. Still rises up. So I think I'm going to stop and open this up. I had more to say, but maybe it's not necessary. Let me just end with this because I love it. It's not quite in the context. I actually want to say two things. One is about Gloria Steinem, who if you have not heard her speaking about gun control and paralleling it with abortion. Look for it. Too good, what she's done. At any rate, famously at age 50, when somebody said, whoa, see, wow, you look fabulous for your age. And she said, this is what 50 looks like. And then I hope she said it again at 60, 70, and 80. She's now 85, and she's gorgeous. And I hope she says it at 100. May it be so. So I'm going to step off my pole for the last time here.


Well, I wrote down what I want to do is keep stepping off the pole, to keep opening, to keeping my heart open, to be sharing whatever it is I have to share, every once in a while I miss the roles, the places where I could actually put my skills and my life experience, and sometimes that may happen and it may not, but wherever it may happen, So here's T.S. Eliot, the last of the four quartets, Little Gidding. Many of you will know this quote. I sort of messed around with it a little bit, so don't be disturbed. We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and to know the place for the first time. Through the unknown,


remembered gate when the last of earth left to discover is that which was the beginning a condition of complete simplicity costing not less than everything and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well so thank you so If you have thoughts or questions, you'll just tell me when it's time, right? Oh, okay. I thought it was ten after. Hi. Thank you, Luminous Heart. You're welcome. Would you, maybe now I'll understand the koan if you read it again. Sure. Yeah. Yes. Master Chosha asked the monk to go ask the hermit Eosho, what about before you saw Nansen?


The monk did so, and Eosho was silent for a while. The monk asked, how about after seeing him? Then what?" Eosho said, nothing special. The monk returned and told this to Chosha. And Chosha said, there's a man on the top of a 100-foot pole. Though he has a degree of understanding, it's not yet the real thing. From the top of the hundred-foot pole, he should advance a step, and the ten directions of the world will be his entire body. The monk asked, how do you advance a step? And Chosha replied, the mountains of Ro Province, the waters of Re Province. The monk said, I don't understand. And Chosha remarked, the four oceans and the five lakes are within the king's control.


So the king is us guys. The queen, queen and king, us guys, yeah. And in the appreciatory verse at the end, I won't read the whole thing, but it says, wordless peach and plum. Under them, people's footpaths naturally form. When the season comes, work to till the soil. Who's afraid in spring paddies to sink in mud to the knees? Isn't that beautiful? That's a beautiful koan. Yeah. Hi, Peter. Yeah, wonderful. Yes, thank you. That's that first half of the dirty part.


Tush to the kush is one piece. By taxi, is it? No. Practice, practice, practice. Ah, ha, ha. Okay. I did the other answer. Okay. Practice, practice. Yeah. Practice, practice, practice works for me. And practice, practice, practice, just using that template of the hero's journey, heroine's journey, is that there really are challenges along the way. It's not just that you just sit in and you sit and you sit some more and then you get your your prize cracker box or something, it's no question hard work. Hard, hard, hard work. And then we always use this metaphor of the pebble hitting the pail. It's sort of like talking about an actor who's an overnight success after working for 25 years every day.


Did you at some point recognize yourself on the 100-foot pole and did you at some point recognize yourself making the effort to step off? And how was that? I kind of think of this pole as not a one-shot pole. I mean, I think we have 100-foot poles. We have challenge. We set challenges to ourselves in different ways at different times. So this could be something that happened in a day. For you? I think so, yeah. Trying to think of one if one rises up like that. Moving up here? Moving up here was a biggie. That was a huge step off for me, yeah. I did trust the practice. There was nothing about that that was a question for me.


But it felt like virtually stepping into space. A lot. Scary. It was actually scary. I didn't say that to myself at the time. I said it after I got here. After I got here. Please. One was time out of mind. Yes. Then I thought, mind out of time. Oh, nice. Yeah. And the other was looking in the mirror. The you, which is timeless, is looking at the you which is time. Yes. Oh, nice. That's a much nicer way of saying it. Thank you. I always like to think of this, you know, the image in the tarot cards of the sacred fool, that first card, where he's just sort of going


like this out into space. It's an act of huge trust, actually, to let go, to not grasp the pulse, a big trust that what is needed will be present, will come. Yeah, please. Oh, thank you. Well, we're doing a workshop, a one-day workshop for mothers and adult daughters, because we think it's a not always explore territory and sometimes for many people it's a very challenging terrain to be in on both sides of that configuration. So we're going to do a one-day workshop and then we'll see where it goes from there. Yeah, so. You have to come as a pair. Yeah, you'd be amazed how often that question is asked. Which is the problem.


Well, who knows, maybe we'll do something else at some point then. Okay, thank you. Yes? We will be available post-vacuum. It's not, it's a workshop, it's one day. Life goes on, practice goes on, availability goes on, so. Yeah. Yeah. Excuse me? Who's asking that? Where are you? There you are. Well, I would have to consult with my work partner. I don't think we... Let us try this one first. There we go. Yes, please. Well, it depends what the hole was you came off of and how you came off it.


I mean, that's a piece of this, but let's just say, how does a homeless person or an older person in a condition of poverty move forward? I mean, yeah. It's not okay with me that anybody's in that condition. That's not okay. And we can't fix all that, but we can and do hopefully respond where we see the need, whether somebody's been pushed off the pole, stepped off the pole, or anyway, they're in painful straits that we have, that we respond so well as we each can in the situation. I don't think, I don't know how to talk about that from the trust place of how they got off the pole, but that would be my response off the pole toward that person, hopefully.


Hopefully. I appreciate the point too. One of the practices that I have done just in terms of, I work with the, you know, the five remembrances of we're all of a nature to grow old, sick, die, et cetera. I used to do, I don't actually do it so much anymore this time, is that I used to do a meditation where I imagined myself homeless and


out of contact with other people under a bridge, incapacitated and not able to ask for help. And then sat down inside of that experience to try to be with it, which is not the same thing as were I in fact homeless, but it does allow for the non-beautiful picture of a person with privilege and money being able to get old. I just went to a new senior housing thing to visit where it only costs $11,000 a month to be there. And it's perfect. You can die there because they don't use the D word, but one could D there eventually. So that's the other end of the spectrum. Yeah. Yes, Lisa. Who had nothing?


Are we on time? You have to tell me. We're out of time. I'm sorry. Can we talk after? Thank you. Okay. Thank you.