I’ve been trying to cook more. You know, evolve beyond frozen pizza and cereal for dinner. A kid pushes you to better yourself, right? I hear it’s called “adulting.” And I’m digging it right now. It’s wet outside, grey – the kidlet and I are baking up a storm, making a huge mess of the kitchen counter, being creative, productive – revelling in it, for the most part. But even as I’m cooking, baking, mixing, making, and thinking, wow, I hope my family love this dinner, I’m struck by the thought that, if they do, they’re going to devour it all up, and it will be gone, and I’ll be back at zero. Starting over. Right at the beginning. As if I hadn’t done all this work. Nothing will remain. Fark. What’s the point?
I suddenly am thinking of monks making mandalas, spending hours making intricate sand sculptures – exquisite works, that, upon completion, they will sweep away, as some meditation on the impermanence of all things.
I always thought that was profound.
What a practice of detachment. How to celebrate the process, the act of making, and liberate yourself from the need for results, accolades, an end product. Way to stay in the moment, you bald-headed enlightened shining ones.
Now? I’m like, easy for you monks! If you mofos had to make 3 meals a day for a family, plus snacks, from scratch, if you had kids full stop, you wouldn’t need to do things with no results for kicks. Parenthood is the art of achieving nothing lasting. A constant practice in letting go of outcome, of your own desire. It’s easier to meditate zenfully, all holy-like, on impermanence, when you’re in a monastery. A little harder in the midst of everyday life. AmIrite?
Pre-kid, going to a meditation retreat was on my bucket list. After I spent those first weeks, sidelined from life, withdrawn into the tiny bubble of nursing mama and newborn, I realised I was meditating, in my own fashion, and that ambition, that I thought would convey insta-innerpeace, was laughably naive. It was struggle. My monkey mind and me did battle, as the babe suckled away.
Like my friend and editor-extraordinaire, Feet Banks, told me, about having a kid: You get what you need, not what you want.
Hello, little interventionist.
Back in the pre-kid days, we were climbing at Red Rocks, and wandering through the Vegas strip one night, when we saw that Leonard Cohen was playing there. Surreal.
“We should go,” I urged, but it seemed too cheesy, almost suspicious. We were already conflicted with the sheer fact of being there. We wandered through the haze and neon bling of the casinos, arguing about it for a while.
“Nobody goes into a Zen monastery as a tourist,” Leonard Cohen recently told David Remnick, of the New Yorker, in a fantastic October 2016 profile.
“There are people who do, but they leave in ten minutes because the life is very rigorous. You are getting up at two-thirty in the morning; the camp wakes up at three, but you have to light fires in the zendo. The cabins are only heated a few hours a day. There’s snow coming in under the badly carpentered doors. You’re shovelling snow half the day. And the other half of the day you’re sitting in the zendo. So in a certain sense you toughen up. Whether it has a spiritual aspect is debatable. It helps you endure, and it makes whining the least appropriate response to suffering. Just on that level it’s very valuable.”
Cohen practiced for years.
“People have the idea that a monastery is a place of serenity and contemplation,” Cohen said. “It isn’t that at all. It’s a hospital, and a lot of the people who end up there can barely walk or speak. So a lot of the activity there is to get people to learn how to walk and speak and breathe and prepare their own meals or shovel their own paths in the winter.”
Yesterday, the rivers around here were still flowing, as was a collective horror about the US election results, and the social streams were full, too, of laments, for word had got around that Cohen passed away earlier this week.
We could not need places for healing more.
How broken it all is.
How much we need to learn how to walk, breathe, speak, make meals, listen.
I spend the night on the couch, reading that beautiful profile, sighing over wise things he says about process, about being in the moment, about letting go. Those monks are on to something, after all.
We didn’t go see him play that time in Vegas.
I wish we had.
But, I figure, it’s probably the only thing in my life I honestly regret. Everything else that I look back on with a cringe, or a hollow in my heart, brought me here, to this place – a little bit wiser, a bit roughened up, a lot older – but no take-backs. So I figure, I’m doing okay. I figure, I can live beautifully, even with that.
Life is burning well.
So I say to the little one, “Want to cook up something yummy?” And we roll up our sleeves, and return to our happy mess.