Sunday, May 17, 2009

My father: Zen master? Ivy.

I suspect that my dad was a Zen master. He would have denied it. Zen masters always do.

Recently I read a book, The Way of the Peaceful Warrior. It is a semi-autobiographical novel of one man’s journey to Enlightenment. I found it somewhat preposterous, but it got me thinking.

Once of the main characters worked nights performing the mundane tasks associated with working graveyard in a gasoline service station in Berkeley, California in the 1960’s. He was a Zen master.

My dad was a banker. He read numbers during the day and the paper at night after dinner. He was content. He didn’t speak a lot. He enjoyed the moment. Dinner. Paper. TV. Bedtime. Breakfast. Commute. Work. Home for dinner at 5:30. This was the work-a-day cycle of his pilgrimage.

In The Way of the Peaceful Warrior, the Zen master takes on a recruit: the protagonist. My father received his recruit in the form of a son. When I was old enough to enroll in his “monastery,” my training began.

“Today son, we will be trimming the ivy. You will be allowed to help. I will cut. You will fill these 30 grocery bags with the clippings.”

“Okay. When?”


And so my training began. I gradually graduated to advanced ivy trimming.

“Son, today you will be trimming the ivy and crawling under the house to remove the invasive tendrils that are growing there. Look out for spiders.”

“Okay dad.”

“Wear old clothes.”

“Yes, father.”

I didn’t get any spider bites, and I felt the thrill of belly crawling beneath the house, cutting, gathering, and dragging out the 20 foot long pale green vines that lacked the sense to grow outdoors where they belonged.

I was absorbed by the task. I know what the world looks like out of a five inch by eight inch wire screen: it’s the world as seen by a young Zen student trimming ivy under a house in southern California.

More lessons followed.

To be continued…


  1. love this. I hear that's a great book, I think I'll put it on my list. Interesting how some of the most important lessons come from the mundane.

    Although I won't like to admit it too loudly... I am a very very far ways away from Zen Master.

    With time, I hope.

  2. @Chase -- it seems I got more out of the book than I thought. You may not be a Zen master, but you are a Zen "knucklehead." Zen is not a way of travel, nor a destination, but perhaps a timeless moment? A golden moment in the now. (It's also a good excuse to practice randomness.) ;-)