Wednesday, May 27, 2009
My dad, Zen master? Zen brevity.
I’ve been re-examining the relationship I had with my dad, and it was good. This re-examination happened in part because I’ve recently read a book, The Way of the Peaceful Warrior. The main character in the book is instructed by an unlikely Zen Master: a service station attendant.
In many ways I have been schooled by my dad. The recollections I’ve been sharing are obviously fictionalized, but there is a germ of truth in each. These are kernels of memories of my dad that I hold dear. I’m just having some fun with those memories. Like this one…
My father took up Zen camping later in life when he retired, but when I was growing up, we didn’t do much camping: just once. Our family met up with my dad’s brother and his family at King’s Canyon National Park for a week in the summer of 1964. I was 11.
While breakfast was being cooked, I walked with my dad to a faucet to “wash up” before breakfast. Zen Masters are often men of few words. They sometimes speak in koans, which are brief stories meant to be paths of enlightenment. Dad was, on occasion, a master of brevity.
He went first in the “washing up” ritual. I turned on the faucet, he bent over, filled his hands, and threw the water in his face. His eyes opened wide, and he uttered his koan: “Brisk!”
I had never heard the word. I didn’t know what it meant. But I could tell he wanted me to learn, even if his lesson contained but one word.
I filled my hands with water; it was ice cold. I threw it in my face, and I discovered what brisk was. I was awakened!
I turned and started back to the camp. I felt wide-eyed and fully alert.
“Are you going to turn off the faucet, Stu?”
“Well, get to it. I’ll meet you back at the tent-site.”
Water is precious, and so is camping with your dad. You learn the darnedest things. I did.