We can all feel the effect of the fires in Lake County and in Middletown. The fragility of life, the uncertainty of things, has revealed itself as trees and houses burn, as animals run from the flames, as people are evacuated from their homes, not knowing if, after it all, their town would be left standing. I have been feeling this deeply over the past two days, partly because a friend of our Open Door spiritual community, Rosemary, is from Middletown. This morning I spoke with her and found myself brought closer to my practice through her words.
A few weeks ago, we sat with the koan, In the Sea of Ise, 10000 feet down, there is a single stone. I wish to pick up that stone without wetting my hands. On finding the stone the koan continues, On the stone there are three lines. Across the top there is name written, what is that name? On the left hand side there is some writing, “Cannot get wet.” On the right side there is another line of writing, “Cannot get dry.” This koan has stayed with me for weeks now and as I heard Rosemary speak of her experience she brought up this koan.
Cannot Get Wet
Life is vast and seamless.. In the uncertainty of each moment this seamlessness remains -- a seamlessness that is before good and bad, right and wrong, before we have divided the world up, been caught up in the sorrows and pains of life. This unadorned beauty is my life, our lives, the shape of the universe. Here, we cannot get wet. In my own practice, I have always desired, wished for, wanted that experience. On the other hand, on this stone is written the line…
Cannot Get Dry
I am drenched. What happens in my life is no less part of this seamlessness. As I live and breathe I am drenched to the bone. As I connect with my friend Rosemary, I am close to tears. As she speaks of the damage to her home, the loses she has endured, her chickens roaming what used to be her neighborhood, my heart breaks. Drenched.
Cannot get wet. Cannot get dry. Here we are right now. For Rosemary the report is similar. In speaking with me this morning, she is aware of the vastness of things. She is unable to get wet -- she has grown to trust the kindness of others, the fact that her chickens, though roaming, are alive. She lives and is grateful. Her family is ok. Her sweet dog is with her. Much has happened, yet she cannot get wet. But it is also true, she cannot get dry. Clearly, as would anyone going through this kind of loss, she is drenched. Her house has been burned, her storage barn is burned, the house she rents out next door, burned to the ground. Vast and mysterious this universe. Nothing left out.
Our practice helps us experience our lives more intimately. We experience ourselves as one with the whole of the universe. “This very place is paradise,” says Hakuin, “this very body, the Buddha.” We are not separate. Intimate with life we cannot get wet. Yet, we are also intimate with the ebb and flow, the fires, the floods. As life rises, it meets us and we meet it. And the universe cries as us.
Here is a song by Van Morrison, “Sometimes We Cry,”
And we, here we are, in the midst -- cannot get wet, cannot get dry.