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Walking in the fog

March 22, 2012

By Stephen Damon

When I opened the front door this morning I saw that the sidewalks were wet, but I saw that it was only a heavy fog so I didn’t bring an umbrella or a rain hat when I took our new dog for her early morning walk.  So I got her leash and we went out.  It wasn’t raining and living near the ocean I am used to the fog so I didn’t worry about not having rain gear.  Instead, I tried to do what I always do during my morning dog walks: I paid attention to Zozo,  the halos around the street lights, and the silence that saturates the darkness.  This morning I saw a woman hurrying to her car, so I gently bowed and said “good morning,” the way I always do on my morning walks.  She stopped short and thanked me. It was a very intimate moment.  After a while I noticed that I was sopping wet.  My hair was wet, my jacket was wet and my pants were wet. And then I remembered a passage from Suzuki Roshi’s Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind that I’d like to share with you:

After you have practiced for a while, you will realize that it is not possible to make rapid, extraordinary progress.  Even though try very hard, the progress you make is always little by little.  It is not like going out in a shower in which you know when you get wet.  In a fog, you do not know you are getting wet, but as you keep walking you get wet little by little.   If your mind has ideas of progress, you may say, “Oh, this pace is terrible!” But it is not.  When you get wet in a fog it is very difficult to dry yourself.  So there is no need to worry about progress…This is the Soto way of practice.  You can say either that you make progress little by little, or that we do not even expect to make progress.  Just to be sincere and make our full effort in each moment is enough.  There is no Nirvana outside our practice.

I have been thinking about this passage a lot lately as I have been feeling saturated by my practice as a Soto Priest.  There are always things for me to do: study Dogen,as well as other teachers and ancestors, prepare Dharma Talks and, now,  Blog entries.  Besides all these external things that I have to do, I have my ordinary daily practice, which has become more full and demanding since I was ordained.  I keep the program of my Home-leaving  Ceremony on my desk and I frequently go through the bodhisattva precepts that I vowed to continuously observe.   I try to keep them with me as I go about my day.  

These precepts have provided the moral and religious context in which I practice sitting meditation, but it is the great vow to fee all beings that has become the most central vow of my life as a priest.  I inwardly recite, Beings are numberless, I vow to free them before I sit each morning.    As I go about my day, talking with people at my bookstore, saying hello to acquaintances on the sidewalks, driving through the congested traffic of San Francisco,  I am aware of it, sometimes in the background of my awareness, and sometimes in the foreground.   In a sense, I feel that my life has become that vow. It seems to fill each moment to the point of overflowing.  When people ask me how I’m doing, I say “full.” This morning I feel sopping wet. 



From → Zen Buddhism

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