Sunday, November 27, 2011

To infinity and beyond!

My four-year-old daughter said the most amazing thing yesterday. Or at least I think it's amazing.

We attended a family baptism at a Catholic church two weeks ago. She pointed up to Jesus hanging on the crucifix twenty feet above our heads, and asked, "Why is he up there?"

Obviously we're not Christian--as I think you can tell by now--and so she doesn't know much about Jesus, other than that he was a teacher like the Buddha. We skipped the whole crucifixion part of the story, figuring what was the point in mentioning all of the bloody details for a religion we don't practice? Besides, she'll have the rest of her life to learn about Jesus and God.

My wife said, "Well, you know how we have statues of the Buddha? Some people have statues of Jesus."

My daughter scrunched her face skeptically. "I don't like it," she said. After all, Jesus on the cross can be a pretty morbid sight, especially for a four-year-old who isn't used to seeing it.

So she has been asking a lot about where people and the earth come from. Her latest kick is infinity. (Maybe it has to with Buzz Lightyear's "To infinity, and beyond!") She loves how mind-boggling it is, and often asks things like, "What's the next number after infinity?" Or, "What's the number before infinity?"


My favorite expression of hers is: "I love you to infinity."

But back to the amazing thing she said. While working on a craft at the kitchen table, she said, "Everything is infinity."

I stopped to see if I had heard her correctly. It took a few seconds before I realized that I had--everything is infinity. "That's the heart of Zen!" I wanted to shout.

A couple of weeks ago I tried to explain interconnectedness to her. She was asking where my grandmother was, who died last winter, and I tried to explain that we are always connected to Mama, even if she's not "alive" anymore.

I think I confused her more than anything, especially since at the end of the conversation she asked, "But where are the strings that connect us all together? I don't see them."


But yesterday she nailed it head on--everything is infinity. It's the essence of Hua-Yen and Zen Buddhism: everything is it. Everything is connected, and contains everything else. There is only one substance, and we are it. Everything is, for that matter. There is nothing outside of it.

Wow, talk about humbling. If you want to know what infinity is, just ask a four-year-old.

Or better yet, look around you--it's everywhere.

(Thanks for opening my eyes, honey. I love you to infinity, too.)

Photo borrowed from Creative Commons flickr user: Sean MacEntee.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Don't wish your life away

As you can probably tell by my lapse in posts, I've been busy. I'm wrapping up my quarter in the Five Mountain Seminary, writing two final papers, and trying to finish all of my grades as a high school teacher.

So I was sitting and talking to my wife a couple of minutes ago when I caught myself saying, "Let's just make it through the holidays; then everything will work itself out." Meaning, once the holidays are over, we will find some equilibrium.

My wife looked up and said, "Don't wish your life away."

I bit my tongue before I shot back some snide remark, when I realized that she was totally right.

I was dreaming about how calm things will be in a couple of weeks and overlooking the present moment. Sure things are hectic and complex, but they don't need to be complicated. We complicate matters when we resist what's actually happening and drift off into some mental fantasy about how we wish things would be.

So my wife woke me up, like a koan cutting through delusion. Don't wish your life away--a very Buddhist teaching. Most of us spend half of our time wishing we were somewhere else doing something else. But tomorrow is guaranteed to no one.

Bodhisattva's take the form of a kind friend, an angry boss, or a loving wife.

Thanks honey for shaking me awake!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Mouthful of chocolate

My two-year-old son hates the car ride home from day care. He screams most of the twenty minutes drive. So my wife and I usually bring treats--juice boxes, graham crackers, pop tarts--to calm the savage beast. We usually wait until he starts fussing before we give in, but some days, after dealing with hundreds of students ourselves (we're both teachers), we give in early.

Last Thursday, my wife was driving when my son started screaming, pounding his feet against the back of my seat. I immediately reached inside my wife's lunch box and found a couple of pieces of chocolate. I leaned around my seat and handed it to him.

Quieting instantly, he grabbed the chocolate, tossed it in his mouth, but no sooner had I turned to face forward than he started wailing again. I turned, expecting him to have spit the chocolate out as he sometimes does; but no, he was still eating it. The chocolate was melting on his tongue and he wanted another piece.

Even before he finished the first one!

Inwardly I chuckled. This is the quintessential human condition. We're never satisfied with the food we have in our mouths; we're always looking to our next fix. Dukkha, the sense of dis-ease that fills most people's lives. If only we could drop our judgments and just accept the present moment as it is, rather than making ourselves miserable by pining for more damn "chocolate."

It's amazing the things you can learn from a two-year-old.