Zen Bodies, Zen Mirrors

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I was thinking that I would not put on the microphone. Thank you. Because I think I have a loud enough voice and we are such a small group. Is that okay with everybody? Okay. If I get quiet, just give a wave. Welcome to everybody. It's a beautiful morning and it's really nice to be here and practicing this way together as women. And when we were chanting the road chant this morning, it was so lovely. And I thought it was that you could hear this sparkle in our voices. And it's not that it's just fine to chant with the men, But chanting with women's voices is different. And it reminded me of being in the kitchen a few weeks ago with a new cook and a woman.


And at the time of service, the head server was a woman. And there were the two assistants who were also women. And it was kind of just by chance. And when we did the service, you know, the service is a kind of intimate experience anyhow. being in such a small space and with a few people, but hearing those women's voices chanting during service was, it had that same sparkle. So I appreciate that. And we've been doing these women's Sashins for a long time. So I was talking about this Sashin with our daughter, Li Hong, she's 16, she's a junior at Berkeley High School. and telling her about how it was a session just for women and that I would be giving a talk. And I said, I'm kind of thinking about topics.


Do you have any suggestions? And I said, you know, it should be a topic that's relevant to women's lives that we can explore together and a topic that we can relate to our practice. And without a pause, she said, what about body image? And I thought, wow, what about body image? So I said, well, anything else? And she said, well, you could talk about where women have come from and how far we've come compared to the past. because there's so many more possibilities for women today. And I said, okay, anything else? And she said, well, you could talk about how women feel about how far we've come compared to the past. Or you could talk about how men feel about how far women have come compared to the past.


And I thought, well, I'll leave that one alone. And so we kind of continued to talk about body image, and we asked each other a lot of questions, and I just kind of let the topic percolate. And in the meantime, I had a Dharma talk with Lori Sanaki about body image, and we shared stories. And she reminded me of a Zen story that we'd both read. I have landed on that topic and I'm going to read you that story. And I also talked to another friend, a woman friend, a longtime friend who lives here in the East Bay and has a long practice, not here but elsewhere. And she's 73 and she knows our daughter well. So when I told her what she'd said, she said, I don't think I think any less about body image at this stage in my life than I did when I was Lihong's age, but it's different.


And so I said, how so? How is it different? And she said, well, I think about death, and I think about my death, and I think about my body related to my death, and I wonder how my body's gonna deteriorate. She's a very active 73-year-old. And she said, I still do think about how I look, but it's not really connected so much to beauty as it is to my aging body. And so I said, well, how do you think about it? I mean, how do you work with it in terms of your practice? And she was very thoughtful. She said, well, I try to appreciate my life every day and I try to be aware of what I'm feeling because when I think about death, I have a lot of fear come up. So I try to watch the fear and work with that.


And she said recently, I took up a new practice. So when I wake up in the morning, I say, I'm alive and it's a good day to be alive and I could die today. And she says, somehow that's helped to calm my mind. Now, my daughter talked about the importance of body image in terms of her peers. She said, it matters to me what my peers are thinking about how I look. And I thought, well, I can kind of remember feeling that way when I was a teenager. She said, I know I always look good to you, Mama. But sometimes I'm afraid of how others are looking at my body and judging me.


So I said, well, how do you work with that? And I wanna read you exactly what she said. She said, well, I try to remember that I like myself. I try to remember that who I am and what I look like look fine. I try to remember that each person is an individual, but really we're alike in so many ways. I try to remember that everything I see in the media related to body image is Photoshopped. And so it's really not real at all. And then she said, I try not to compare myself to others, but that's really hard. And so I said to her, well, that sounds like Zen, because our instruction in Zen is not to compare ourselves to others, but it's really hard. And sometimes we do. Our daughter is a dancer.


She's danced for many, many years from the time she was tiny. And now she dances quite seriously and she dances a lot. And so I said to her, well, what about body image and the dance world? And she said, oh, body image is really big in the dance world. And I said, well, what do you think about in terms of your own body image? as you dance?" And she said, well, I don't have the typical dancer body. I'm short and I'm muscular. So she said, I'm kind of lucky that my passion is modern dance. And I said, why? And she said, well, because ballet dancers are usually tall and skinny and they don't eat much. And I like to eat. And she said, She reminded me of her friend, Audrey. Audrey lives in San Francisco.


And when she was nine years old, she went to a ballet school in San Francisco to register. And they told her that she had to lose weight before she could study ballet at that particular school. And so Lee Hong said, but Audrey was lucky because she found ODC. ODC is where they dance. It's in the mission. And she said, At ODC, anybody can dance. The philosophy is any body, anybody can dance. And she said, uh, Audrey is built like me, but we're both good dancers and we're encouraged to dance. And then she said, we're encouraged to explore who we are with our bodies and express that. And I said, well, that sounds like Zen too, because we're encouraged to explore who we are with our bodies and express that.


So then I said, well, what about mirrors? Mirrors are everywhere in the dance world, at your classes, at your rehearsals. They're from the ceiling to the floor on three sides. And she said, Oh, we use them to constantly be checking our alignment. And I said, well, that's very powerful because to me that goes beyond that kind of personalizing of a particular body. If you're checking your alignment, you're not looking at you personally, you're looking at the body, not my body. And I said, that sounds like Zen too. We're encouraged during Zazen to, when we notice we've got thoughts and we're following our thoughts, we come back to the breath and we give ourselves Zazen instruction and we check our alignment over and over again.


And it's a way to take us away from our personalizing of our bodies and our minds. Then I asked her, do you ever slip into looking at yourself in the mirror when you're dancing? I mean, looking at what you look like and making some personalized statement about that. And she said, oh, of course, I think we all do that. But we're trying to train ourselves so that we bring out the very best in ourselves and the mirrors are there to help us. I'm going to read to you from The Hidden Lamp. Some of you may have heard Susan Moon last Saturday. She's one of the editors of this wonderful book of stories from 25 centuries of awakened women.


She was here, I think, also giving a workshop in the afternoon. Unfortunately, I teach on Saturdays and I miss both events. But if you haven't read this book, I really recommend it. It has wonderful stories in it. So this particular story is called The Zen Mirror of Tokeji. And it says it's from Japan, probably the 13th century. And so I'll read you the story short, and then there's a reflection given by a local Zen priest in our Soto Zen tradition, Earthlin Manuel. Anybody know her? The convent of Tokeji had a great mirror. The founding abbess, Kazusan Shido, would meditate before it in order to see into her own nature.


Later generations of nuns would practice zazen in front of the mirror, concentrating on the question, where is a single feeling, a single thought in the mirror image at which I gaze? Each abbess of Tokeji wrote a verse in response to the mirror practice. The following verse was composed by the fifth abbess, Princess Yodo. Heart unclouded, heart clouded, standing or falling, it's still the same body. Heart unclouded, heart clouded, standing or falling, it's still the same body. So now her reflection. Where is a single feeling, a single thought in the mirror image of which I gaze? When we ask this question, at once we enter the purpose of our lives, which is to look upon our lives and discover who we are as living beings.


We enter a dark abyss in which we encounter our heart, mind and body. On the journey of discovery, we fall through the sky. At times the sky is clouded and at other times it's unclouded. On the earth, we plant our feet and still we stumble. What are the clouds and what takes them away? What makes us stand or fall? Looking into a mirror may seem easy, but being honest with what we see is difficult. A few days before my 59th birthday, I looked into the mirror to see if I looked old. I asked, am I old? What is old? I did this exercise for five minutes a day for seven days. On the first day, I didn't see anything because I was afraid of seeing an old lady. My eyes constantly turned away. On the second day, I spent time plucking the hairs from my chin. I could see them clearly, the white hairs against my dark skin.


They provided a nice distraction. On the third day, I thought I should grow my hair longer so that the thinning parts would disappear. I remembered my mother's hair thinning in the same places when she was my age. Still, I didn't want to see my mother in me, nor see an old lady in myself. On the fourth day, as I looked in the mirror, I wondered what an old lady looked like. So I spent much of my day examining women as I walked in the world, deciding who looked old and who didn't. On the fifth day, I decided I must be old because my neck skin was beginning to sag like I had seen in the so-called old women the day before. On the sixth day, I cried in front of the mirror. I felt I had no control of my stumbling into old age.


I felt my death was closer than ever before. On the seventh day, I saw fear in the tightness of my lips, confusion in the brow. I thought, what a tough journey life is. Then I looked deeper without an idea in my head, just the question, what is old? And I saw a courageous woman willing at least to look at herself. There are many mirrors. A physical mirror can reveal expressions on our faces. The mirror of zazen, of sitting meditation, allows us to look into the heart and body mirror. When I look in a mirror, I see a black face. In the past, I've responded to being black with painful emotions. However, through Zazen, when I see my black face, I am awake to the suffering that arises. I see the old pain rising in the moment of looking in the mirror. I wait for my response to pass, as it is guaranteed to do.


And in that passing, I see more of who I am and not so much how I appear. When we face the mirror of Zazen, our minds tend to face ourselves as objects first. Our skin color, age, gender, sexual orientation, all the ways we are embodied and move in the world. We begin to unfold stories about I. If we are willing to look long enough in the mirror of Zazen, past seeing ourselves as objects, we have the potential to see that we are nature itself. We are born and will die, just as the trees, flowers, and animals in the wild do. And sometimes, in Zazen, we can see that the mirror is clear There are no clouds, no dust. The human condition is set aside. I am not old, middle-aged, or young.


I am fulfilled in my own spirit. And in this recognition, I feel the connection to my ancestors, to those who came before me, or to a life larger than my own. I am returned to an open field in which there are many possibilities. This open field is my original home, where there is no blackness, no old age. As Princess Yodo wrote, heart unclouded, heart clouded, standing or falling, it is still the same body. I say, in the silence of my open field, face clear or face colorful, dancing or sitting, it is still the same body. What do you see when you look in the mirror? Are you there? After that, after thinking about mirrors, I was remembering when I was quite young in my 20s,


Victor and I walked the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine over a series of months. We followed the seasons from spring to fall up in New England, and there were no mirrors. I mean, I didn't look at myself for months on end, and I still can remember that feeling of a kind of It was liberating or it was a relief or it was both. I'm not sure why, but it was that I was focused on what I was doing and mirrors seemed irrelevant, didn't seem to have anything to do with what we were doing. And I think when I go out into the wild, I still have that feeling of mirrors don't matter. So to see more of who we are and not how we appear takes practice and it takes a commitment to practicing over and over again.


We're so fortunate to be in a practice where what we do is train over and over again with the breath. Train over and over again to be aware, to let go, to come back to the breath. Bringing body and mind into this body where we are right now. not trying to improve ourselves. We learn to feel in our body and not so much about our body. And awareness teaches us this. We train ourselves to connect to the present moment over and over through the breath and the present condition of our lives, which is


always changing. We can notice our thoughts and our feelings and our chatter mind and we can come back to our breath. After we do this for years and years, we notice our habits and we can decide what's useful and what's not so useful. we can replace our habits that aren't useful with habits we feel are more useful. Slowly in this way, it seems like we learn to take care of ourselves. When I went through menopause a few years ago, my doctor told me that it was time to have a bone density scan. And I said, sure, okay. And I went and had the bone density scan.


And to my great surprise, I had osteoporosis. And it wasn't just small, it was big time. And it was a great shock to me because I had no physical symptoms whatsoever, no clue that I had something like that going on in my bones. And actually, even today, I have no physical symptoms, no aches and pains, no sign to me of having osteoporosis, but the numbers surely show it. And if I go back and remember correctly, I was just horrified and a kind of real chatter, panic began to happen in my mind.


that probably went something like this, something like, I've been strong my whole life, and I've done everything I'm supposed to do to take care of myself, and I'm a physical workhorse, and I farmed for a decade, and I swim, and I run, and I garden, and I backpack, and I don't want to stop doing any of those things. And you can kind of hear all that I, I, I, me, my, mine. When I look back, I think I completely fell off the Zafu. And yeah, I just felt horrified. How can this be happening to me? This is not fair. Blah, blah, blah, right?


And then I had images of, you know, being all hunched over and being frail and not being able to ski and being some kind of 80 pound waif. And then when I started to Really look at that. It became necessary to realize and accept that some of those things might happen. Some of those things might actually be in the future. Tomorrow, next month, next year, five years from now, 10 years from now. And just beginning to let that in was a kind of important step. I don't want osteoporosis, but those are just feelings and I can't see myself or I can't see my body image including osteoporosis is what I realized it was about.


The minute we begin to let that in, we see that there's a much bigger piece of that, the question that we all ask ourselves every day in this practice, and that's, how do I want to work with what's going on in my life? How do I want to practice with what's happening in my life? How do I want to practice with what's happening in my body? How am I gonna practice with this? How does Buddha practice with this? How can I embrace the body of Buddha? And where is Buddha in the middle of osteoporosis? Where is Buddha in the middle of my image of my body with osteoporosis? Where is Buddha in the middle of a young dancer and her body? wondering if her body is good enough.


How can any image of ourselves be contained in knowing that this very being is Buddha? Body image is more than an image. How we think, And what we say about our bodies involves the mind. So it can be calm mind or chatter mind, or what's in between, what's between calm mind and chatter mind. For most of us, there's probably a process we go through when we recognize the chatter. What's the process of learning to sit upright right in the middle of how we see ourselves? Well, there's the practicing mind that returns to the breath.


The practicing mind that checks the alignment. The practicing mind that forgets the personalized story. The practicing mind that falls down and stands back up again. We practice this way to refine our lives. We practice this way to accept who we are right now. The Lotus Sutra says, nothing in the world is stable like bubbles or spray or flames. Nothing in the world is stable like bubbles or spray or flames. You should quickly cultivate detachment from things. Those things include letting go of our images of ourselves, of how others see us.


We connect to who we are. This very being is Buddha. How do we sisters want to practice this very being, this Buddha? The Hokyo Samae, the Song of the Precious Mirror Samadhi says this, within causes and conditions, time and seasons, it is serene and illuminating. How can that be? Within The causes and conditions of osteoporosis in this time, this season of my life as a middle-aged woman, it is serene and illuminating. That's true. That's absolutely true. We all know moments of serenity and illumination in our lives as we practice.


Charlotte Joko Beck talked a lot about false fear and not the kind of fear that happens as a result of a physical threat. She talked about false fear being fear in the mind, a false picture, a misuse of the mind, where we make a series of sentences that starts with my experience about what's happening. This is happening. I know this is happening. This can happen. This will happen. This inevitably will happen. It's this building up of an experience. She says, It's a ceaseless waste of mental energy.


A ceaseless waste of mental energy and activity. So what to do? The Lotus Sutra says you should quickly cultivate detachment from things, but how? Joko points to the texts. She said, the ancient texts say, illumine the mind. There's that word again. Illumine the mind. Give it light. Be attentive. That's not the same thing as self-improvement. We're not trying to fix our lives. We're taking care of our lives. We're trying to take care of our lives as we are.


From that place of light, from that place of illumination or serenity or however we want to think of it, there's always a pause. Even if it's ever so brief, there's a pause. And in that quiet, it allows us to listen to ourselves. And the more that we listen to ourselves, the more we're able to hear something. And in that quiet, we can find what we know we want to do to take care of ourselves. And once we learn how to take care of ourselves, somehow it opens up the possibility of us being available to those around us, to the world around us. We also work with this through


having mentors, people who inspire us. We're so lucky in our practice here that we have one another to inspire us. Even right here in this room, there are people who work with physical difficulties in their lives and continue to practice in ways that inspire us all. I'll guess that any physical difficulty somehow gets caught up in our image of ourselves, changes the way we think about ourselves. In the case of my daughter, this summer, she participated in a month-long They called it a pre-professional dance lab where they danced every day for a month.


It was very intensive. She had a teacher who was shorter than her and built like her. She came home one day and she said, Mama, you should see the way Tanya leaps across the floor with her body. She's a powerful, strong dancer. And she's trying to teach me how to be strong in this small body that I have, how to extend my limbs and be strong. And I thought how fortunate to have that kind of mentoring at such a young age. A couple of days ago, I guess it was on Thursday, we went to the chiropractor. She has just a small issue in her hip, and she sees a chiropractor once a month, and they become quite buddies.


He's a wonderful practitioner and just an all-around good guy. He was working on her hip and she told him something she had just told me in the car. She said, well at school today somebody told me I have really muscular legs. And he said, and what did you say? And she said, I said thank you, but I wasn't really sure it was a compliment. And he said, how come? And she said, well, you know, I'm a dancer. And he said, you're an athlete. She said, I'm not an athlete. I'm a dancer. And he said, Li Hong, dancers are athletes. And she said, yeah, but most of them have tall, slender bodies. And he said, you know, when I was your age in high school, I was on the football team. And he said, look at me, I'm not a big guy, I'm not tall, I'm not big, but I'm muscular. And he said, you know, every day I would say to my dad, I wish I was bigger, I wish I was taller, I wish I was tougher, I wish I could be a better football player.


And he said, at one point, my dad sat down with me and he said, you know, you're expending a lot of mental energy wishing that you were someone else. And you've got this beautiful body you were given. And isn't it time to make peace with your body? Isn't it time to appreciate what you were given? And she kind of looked over at me and kind of smiled because as her mom, I tell her that weekly. In my own situation, here in this practice, many of the women mentors who were here when I first started practicing have died. Fran Tribe, and Dolly Gattosi, and Maile Scott, and Rebecca Mayeno were all women who trained me, and inspired me, and encouraged me


along the way and still do actually as we practice here together. I was remembering that on the morning of the day that Dolly died, Dolly lived above the community room for many years and in the morning she was walking around in her kitchen and I was up there with her having tea, and people had come by and brought her little bits of food and packages, and they were kind of lined up on the counter, and she said to me, Susan, I can't eat any of this stuff, but would you please be sure to thank each of those people for thinking of me and bringing me this food. And by late afternoon, she was in her bed, and by midnight, she had died. And I thought, still, on the morning of the evening that she died, she was expressing this great generosity, great appreciation of Sangha, of these little bits that people had brought her.


That was very inspiring. In my own family, I think my parents both have inspired me. My mother died about 11 years ago, and my dad and I sat with her about the last 30, hours of her life. After she died, my father only wanted to wash her face, but I had the good fortune of washing her body. I was totally unprepared for what came over me, but I had this great feeling of how beautiful her body was. She was 84. And I'm not talking about physical beauty, but it was a kind of joyous beauty that came over me. And it's kind of stayed with me for a long time.


I realized, oh, that's how we're trying to practice with each other in our relationships and in our practice. We're trying to practice with joyous beauty. My father died five years ago, and he was 95. And I had brought him here the last couple years of his life. And that was quite wonderful. I got to see him every day. And his mind was completely fine, but his body just fell apart in the last year of his life. And so we talked about his death often. And just weeks before he died, he said to me, you know I might look like this on the outside but on the inside I feel the way I've always felt and I found that very inspiring because he was a he had his own practice it wasn't a Zen practice but he was a spiritual person and I could see that that light was there that light was on the inside and he was not attached to some


physical image of his body. The light really gave him such a calm demeanor throughout his life, but especially served him at the end. So I think I'm going to stop there. We're going to turn off the tape.