Point of View: Beginner’s Mind

So now I want to know how to, if not defeat, at least rein in my annoying ego

We were talking the other day about attaining a balance between the ways of the West and East, a discussion that sort of dovetailed with my reading lately, which began some months ago with William Blake and has wound its way through Lewis Thomas, who thinks everything’s connected, George McGovern, who thinks every child in the world should be fed and that we can afford it (what a radical thought), and which has now alit upon D.T. Suzuki, whose “Essays in Zen Buddhism” Northrop Frye had mentioned in a book of his, “The Great Code,” about biblical language.

So now I want to know how to, if not defeat, at least rein in my annoying ego. I want to know how one can ever attain peace in such a sea of troubles as this world is, and, of course, now that I’m getting closer to it, I want to know how to step over the threshold without drooling overmuch.

Our instructor talked to us about periodically clearing our minds, cleaning the slate. We could do it, for instance, in the midst of a busy day, simply by going into the bathroom and standing there for five minutes. “But then there’ll be all this pounding on the door,” I said, knowing what it’s like at The Star.

In the East they bow when they greet one another, he said. Here, we shake hands. “And give each other diseases,” I said. Down, down, ego.

I tended to fidget when in the lotus position, I said. In fact I wasn’t sure that I could even approximate it, given my two knee replacements. That was all right, he and others said. Just sit on a chair, or with a pillow between your legs. In short, just do it.

I must say I am intrigued. A woman who has been breathing for quite a while now said that concentrating on her breath had changed her. Of course, she cautioned, it takes a long time. I may have to concentrate doubly hard then.

I had told Mary that Shunryu Suzuki, in “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind,” had likened inhaling and exhaling to a likened inhaling and exhaling to a sliding door. But that was wrong. She’ll be trying to breathe through her ears if she listens to me! It was a swinging door, Mary, a swinging door, not a sliding door.

And then the ultimate question, having to do with what it’s all about and how we came about. It’s a great mystery, the instructor, after pausing a bit, said.

Suzuki, I said, had used the metaphor of a waterfall. Before we were born, he said, we had no feeling, we were one with the universe. . . . Birth separated us from this oneness. In life we were like the drops falling from the waterfall, in great difficulty because we had feeling. But water was water, and we were one with the river. It was only when we didn’t realize it that we were fearful. Our life and death were the same thing, he said.

It’s something to think about when you’re standing there in the office bathroom.

Before there’s pounding on the door.