When Clark Strand, Haiku Master, left the monkhood in 1990, his Japanese Zen teacher told him that a student “never fully appreciates his teacher until they have been separated for at least ten years.”*
It occurred to me when I read that passage that I hadn’t seen Myotai, my own Zen teacher, for just over a decade, until I “found” her again at the Japan Society this past fall. Hiding in plain sight!
One of the last things she said to me when I told her I was a “failed” Zen student was, “Don’t worry. You’ll find your own way.” Over the years I’ve tried, but of course trying doesn’t do much. I’ve lost much of my discipline and artistic purpose since I’ve “lost” my right to work in the US (as does every woman over the age of 45); and I didn’t feel I was growing toward anything until I met up with her again.
What am I growing toward? In the past, when I’ve formulated what I like to call a “burning question”, life has always propelled me in the direction of the answer within months of my speaking it aloud.
For example, I lived on a few Indian reservations in the US after college graduation in 1967; and in 1970 I asked someone why there was no native genocide program in Mexico, when we had had one (and South Africa was struggling not to have one)?
Within a year I found myself living in Chiapas, Mexico; working with the Mayan indígenas; driving a jeep and cooking for a government anthropology school (as a wetback); and (incidentally) living with a Jesuit priest, whom I almost married in 1973 (he got someone else pregnant, and that was the end of it). I also saw first-hand how our CIA builds a war, as they were training Guatemalans to kill their own people, creating the future Central American War of the ’70s-’80s.
Then, in 1986, I asked a couple of Lebanese engineers — who were forced to flee their country and work for Jewish-Iraqi rug dealers in NJ, repairing rugs on the floor — why there was a war a Lebanon? Within two years, I had begun to study Arabic; been through my first two Ramadan fasts/celebrations; and found myself living in Turkey, volunteering with the Red Crescent to help the Kurds, and sharing an apartment with a Syrian keyboard player.
I learned the answers to those very large questions, and found they weren’t total mysteries, after all. My next idea was to create a business (TomatoDesign.Net; ShopGreenMall.Net) that would generate a surplus I could use to help women build “trickle-up” businesses and communities worldwide (yes, we need them here, too!). I even did a small movie about it in 2007. But it fizzled.
Was it because I didn’t have a male partner to break the ground for me, as Mañuel and Samer had done for me in other parts of the world? I haven’t figured it out. But it seems my power to transform lives has drained away.
Maybe my teacher can see how to channel what energies I have left. Or maybe I just need to accumulate more funds so I can do it myself (or join forces with someone who has).
These are my thoughts on the brink of a new year: stay tuned and let’s see if any of you can match me with a program or a need where I can give my all!
Hope 2013 opens new doors and/or gates for you, too!
* Seeds from a Birch Tree, Clark Strand, Hyperion, 1997, p. 169