“Before thinking good or evil, what is your original face before your parents were born?”

~ Gateless Barrier, Case 23

I was driving north from the San Francisco airport with a friend, headed to the Pacific Zen leadership retreat, when she said something I had heard perhaps hundreds of times before: “As soon as you make a story about yourself, you separate yourself from the world.” I thought: Yes! How about if this weekend, I told myself, I try to stop making up stories of who I am. How about if I try to live for a time in the world before thinking good or evil.

I found that when I did not make up a story, everyone else’s story became mine. I have given talks at our leader’s retreats, but did not this time. I mattered little, because everyone else’s talk became my talk, their words became my words. Even their grouchiness and bruised feelings, when they appeared, became my grouchiness and bruised feelings.

Presentations and discussions included the elasticity of gender identity: before thinking feminine or masculine, what is the original gender of anyone? We plunged into Jungian psychology’s “Ways of knowing the world”, which included intuition: The orange I was holding became the moon. We took the koan lines, “Drop this about breaking through all the barriers at once,” said Quishan. “Show me where you are now and I’ll see it” and used visualization to sense and draw places where the dharma light would not shine. Unintentionally, I drew a caricature of my father and his anger when I was a child. Buck Joseph (above), a newsreel cameraman, was a master capturer of stories.

The last morning, during a break I was lying on my bed looking out the bedroom window, as the sun began to peek over the wooded ridge in back. For no reason, seeing that sliver of light, I broke into laughter at the utter ridiculousness of worrying that even one thing in all the universe was out of place. That was my story at that moment.