Anything Else?

I have been reading the 200 page transcript that Tom L. from Australia posted online from the six years when he and Joko did dokusan, or face to face teaching, over the phone, something she did a lot. It is quite a document, a testament to her kind, patient and sharp teaching. Here’s a sample:

Tom: I’ve noticed what bugs me. In daily life, maybe a modem that doesn’t work. That sort of thing. It won’t work, it won’t work! Try everything. That was one of the more disturbing features of the week, even though I can recognise what’s happening, it’s still there.

Joko: If it doesn’t work, it just doesn’t work. All you can do is just to fix it, see? In that sense, it’s OK to fix it. But when you try to fix everything in life, it’s different than that. You see what I’m saying? You get that? I mean, if something’s broken down, sure you try to fix it.

Tom: It’s all the attitude on top of it.

Joko: It’s the attitude that this shouldn’t be happening.

Tom: I should be able to fix it.

Joko: People should make things better. We always have a lot we add on. If a practical thing breaks, that’s one thing. But I’m talking about the psychological fixing. The desire to fix people close to us, for instance.

Tom: Well, I don’t know about that. But fixing myself is one I’ve mentioned to you before as being embedded.

Joko: That’s another version.

Tom: It’s pretty noticeable now.

Joko: Well, good. This will give you a lifetime of work. [laughs]

Tom: I think you may be right, actually. [laughs]

Joko: Oh, yeah. But some of this is pretty subtle. You get some of the obvious stuff, but there are many subtle ways we try to fix ourselves that we hardly are aware of at first.

Tom: I can believe that. I was startled by one thing you said several times ago, that … what did I ask you about? Where this was leading or something? And you came back and said, “only the ego would ask that question. I’m not going to answer it.” I thought: my word! How do you know when you’re doing that?

Joko: Welllll, one reason we sit, is we get more and more sensitive to all this stuff we’re doing. Just gets more and more obvious.

Tom: I suppose that’s the only way. Just keep at it. There’s no kind of magic way to flag these things. You just keep doing it and doing it.

Joko: Your own mind gets very sharp after awhile. When you’ve been sitting for a number of years. You pick all sorts of things you wouldn’t have picked up the first year. It’s not so hard. The hard thing is be willing to keep at that, so after a time, you don’t do it so much. That’s all. It’s hard on other people if you’re always fixing them. It’s hard on yourself, if you’re always fixing yourself.

Tom: That’s right. It’s not fair to yourself either, is it?

Joko: No. You never feel content with yourself and your life. A miserable way to be.

Indeed, a miserable way to be.

Though I never met Joko, I have listened to talks by her, watched a documentary about her, opened myself to  her voice enough that I can hear her talking in this passage, especially when she gets mildly worked up, and says, “See?” As in “If it doesn’t work, it just doesn’t work. All you can do is just to fix it, see?” I love it when she says “see?” And she has a little s-lisp, but is so mellow when she talks, almost deadpan, but totally alive. It has been good for me to read all of this because I really need some help with practice these days, feeling so lunk-headed and self-absorbed. Hard to believe that I will ever unravel my millions of desires and demands. It’s exhausting to be running around trying to please myself, get all my various fixes for comfort, attention, fun, connection, solace, quiet, depth, nicotine (ugh). Joko speaks so matter of factly about the first few years of practice being the time when we become sensitive to our ways, and then, as if, we stop making so much trouble. Really? I have been at this for around 15 years. I must have one helluva ego.

One of the other things that has really been touching me in my reading  is the way Joko ends her meeting with Tom by asking, “Anything else?” Awww, Daido! How many hundreds (more?) times I went into dokusan with Daido, and I ranted and raved or presented a koan or cried or acted like he cared I was PISSED at him for some projected (or real) drama in my head, or asked a question. And we would shoot around in there, like pinball marbles, or at least I would, and because he was so there with me most of the time, it felt like the bouncing was mutual. And then he would ask, “Anything else?” as if nothing remarkable had occurred. Of course he was right. This was just me, a confined person, rattling her cage. Nothing remarkable in that.

But when Daido started actively dying from cancer, three years ago this month, something remarkable did occur. We used to go and visit Daido at the abbacy and I was so freaked out by the whole thing I shut down and, being the inappropriately overbearing mom that I am, I would push Azalea, my then-3 year old, into the mix, telling her to ask Daido if he, say, wanted a cookie. He was so impressed by her doting that he really warmed up to her and started asking to have her come to visit. This was perfect for me as I got to be with my much beloved teacher without having to interact. I was just bringing the goods, my girl, the therapy dog.

Daido and Azalea making art (Daido’s last ink drawing, in fact. It’s a bodhisattva that Azalea has on her altar).

This is a sad month. My dead dad’s birthday, my dead teachers’ anniversary, the death of summer. Anything else? Lots else. But I think I will head upstairs to sit instead.