Skip to content


May 28, 2013

by Stephen Damon

I arrived a few minutes early for my first shift at the Zen Guest House and I rang the doorbell that had “patience” marked above the button. As I waited for someone to open the door I tried to settle more deeply into my body and into my intention to help the residents at the end of their lives. As I waited and waited I felt a growing sense of impatience. The sign said “patience” and I didn’t want anyone else to know how impatient I was getting. So I refrained from ringing the doorbell again and tried to enjoy the warm sun and the pleasant sounds of the birds in the trees in the little park next door.

But I soon got distracted from the pleasant sights and sounds of the afternoon and returned to the unpleasant sensations of impatience and irritation swelling up inside me. While I was waiting I noticed how my impatience seemed similar to how I sometimes feel during a sitting when I am waiting for the closing bell to ring. And just like I do when I am sitting with others, I vowed not to move a muscle. So I waited and waited, growing ever more irritated. But slowly I became more interested in not only how I was feeling but also how I was trying to hide my feelings from others. I may have been standing at the top of the stairs in front of the Hospice house, but I felt as if I were sitting in a zendo. I became less attached to what I was feeling and more interested in who was having those feelings. Doing so, I became aware of where I was and how I got to be here.

After about ten minutes I looked inside to see if anyone was in the hallway and I noticed that the scroll of the Heart Sutra was hanging in front of the mirror in the foyer. This meant that one of the residents had died within the past three days. Taking this in, everything changed. I was neither impatient nor patient. I was neither standing outside on the front stoop looking in, nor inside talking to the other volunteers before our shifts. I just was. I had a very full sense of being alive. Actually it was more than that. I had a sense of what Uchiyama Roshi called “the life force of the universe.” I was filled with a sense of awe and wonder and the “once in a lifetime-ness” of the present moment. And so I talk a step backwards and bowed and silently recited the last lines of the Heart Sutra: Gate gate paragate parasamgate Bodhi Svaha. “Gone, gone, gone beyond, gone utterly beyond, enlightenment hail!”

As I finished chanting the great miraculous mantra, the great bright mantra, the supreme mantra, the incomparable mantra, which removes all suffering and is true, not false, a workman opened the door and my first day at the Zen Hospice Project began.


From → Zen Buddhism

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: