The snow falls, each flake it its appropriate place -Zen Saying
I live just north of Boston where apparently we set a 30-day snowfall record of 61.1 inches as of 7:00 yesterday morning.
And. It's. Still. Snowing.
I turn off the television with its non-stop coverage of the storm and the problems the snowfalls have unleashed, and move into the living room to look out the window at the mountains of white that keep growing. It's beautiful, this winter wonderland. The expanse of snow across the yard reminds me of an explosion of vanilla frosting, and I watch the green needles of the pine branches bend under the weight of the heavy, clinging flakes. I notice the growing icicles sparkling above the windowpanes.
I realize this is a meditation moment. I sit down in the sunken living room next to the Tibetan prayer wheel by the fireplace, arranging myself into a lotus position. I breathe in gratitude for the cycle of seasons in New England, refusing to complain about record snowfalls, instead focusing on the preciousness of just this moment.
Until I hear a drip. drip. drip.
I try to follow the meditation guidelines I've learned. Like, for example, if you have an itch, don't immediately go to scratch it. Allow yourself to notice the itch, and keep following your breath, inhaling and exhaling. Many times, the itch will disappear by itself, without needing any action. If, after another round of breaths, the itch is still there, allow yourself to acknowledge it and label it, itch and keep following your inhalation and exhalation. Has it disappeared? Only if by the third time the itch is still there, are you to scratch, but in a purposeful, mindful manner.
Drip. drip. drip.
I breathe in, I breathe out. If I were at a meditation retreat, I would relish the sound of drip. drip. drip. I would imbibe the sound with meaning-- the soothing sound of a waterfall, a drop announcing itself in the universal ocean of being. I am not at a meditation retreat, I remind myself.
Drip. drip. drip.
Okay, screw the inhalation and exhalation or getting up in a mindful manner. I unfold from my lotus position and anxiously follow the sounds, which take me into our den. There, my socks register water as my eyes connect with a recessed light from which three separate spots drip water. Well, with 60.1 inches of snow in 30 days, what did I expect? The roof, like most of us Bostonians, can only take so much.
I place towels on the floor and a bucket to catch the leaks.
In a flash, the snow that surrounds the house is no longer a winter landscape of breathtaking beauty but a sinister invader with the potential to ruin my ceiling and hardwood floors. That, I suddenly realize, makes me quite un-Buddhist as I am clearly attached to a dry home and seem to be fine with nature unfolding as it was meant to as long as there is no real impact on me or my home.
Back in the living room, gazing out the window again, I focus on the front right corner of my yard where a huge mound of snow grows bigger and bigger both from the constant falling precipitation and the plows that push the snow onto this ever growing mountain. I know, buried somewhere beneath the layers of snow brought by the last three storms these past few weeks, there is my beloved Buddha statue.
Actually, my third beloved Buddha statue. The first statue I had sat in the same spot in front of the garden rock surrounded my zinnias and impatiens, geraniums and lavender. This Buddha rode out the spring, summer and fall with no problem, but cracked under the harsh winter elements. While I loved the Tibetan practice of making sand mandalas and when they are complete, mindfully taking a finger across the perfectly created patterns to exemplify impermanence, my Western mind, though gravitating to the East, still liked things "just so." I replaced that first Buddha with another statue, and watched it sit through the seasons welcoming them all without flinching. The flower petal that landed on its cheek, the scorching sun, the rain pelting and the snow falling; season after season it accepted the unfolding offerings of nature and served as a reminder of just sitting and being with what is.
And then, driving home one day, looking out as I always do to see the Buddha in the yard, I was shocked to see that Buddha's space was now empty. Someone had stolen the Buddha! Now of course, I could have been a little more Buddhist about it all. I could have looked at the empty space and thought about the Heart Sutra teaching that form is emptiness and emptiness is form, or I could have cultivated compassion for whomever took the Buddha, hoping that whatever they were searching for they were coming closer to find, but I did none of these things. Just like waiting to scratch the itch only if it's still there after three cycles of breathing, I figured the third Buddha's a charm. I went out and bought a bigger, more beautiful Buddha. I placed the statue in the same spot, and watched him sit peacefully in the yard regardless of the circumstances around him. He sat again in blazing heat, and covered with fall leaves; he sat in the midst of snow and in the blossoming of spring flowers all around him. Season after season, year after year.
Hearing the forecast for the first blizzard of 2015, I told my husband I didn't want to push my luck. "Bring Buddha inside," I requested, fearing the storm might be too much for Buddha this time. But try as he might, my husband was unable to bring Buddha inside. The heavy statue was frozen to the ground and wouldn't budge.
The Buddha is now buried under multiple feet of snow, and I don't know how he is doing or when the snow will ever melt. Meanwhile, I am stressing over the drip. drip. drip. in my den, as I watch the bucket of water filling up. I worry about where else I might see leaks in the house. In the living room? Through the skylights? I keep checking and fretting.
Then I think about the Buddha buried beneath the snow. Just sitting. Just being. Not pacing and fretting like I am, but just being with what is. And I remember a Zen teaching about a Zen student who asks his Master: What did you do before you were enlightened? And the Zen Master replies: I chopped wood and carried water. And the Zen student then asks the Zen Master, "And what did you do after you were enlightened?" And the Zen Master replies, "I chopped wood and carried water."
So I go back into the den and I mindfully lift the bucket full of water and I carry it, and I empty it, and I put it back under the dripping recessed light to watch it continue filling. Then I return to the living room and look again outside my window as the snow continues to fall, covering the world and blanketing the Buddha. I sit down in front of the window and remember the words to a Zen poem:
and the grass grows by itself.
Ellen Frankel is a bereavement counselor at Care Dimensions, a non-profit hospice organization in Massachusetts, and is the author of numerous books including the novel Syd Arthur, about a middle-aged, suburban Jewish woman and her search for enlightenment 2,500 years after her namesake Siddhartha, the historical Buddha. You can visit her at: www.authorellenfrankel.com.