In the Sea of Ise 10,000 feet down, lies a stone…

Here is the stone, inscribed with three lines:

1) The top line is a signature.

2) The right line reads: “Cannot get wet”

3) The left line reads: “Cannot get dry.”

~ Pacific Zen Miscellaneous Koans

One of the most satisfying aspects of working on koans with students, I find, is a chance to plunge into and share their experience with the koan, whatever it might be. Whatever they may feel ~ flat, dull, wonderful, expansive ~ I can appreciate, as well. To paraphrase Wumen, our eyebrows intertwined, we see with the same eyes and hear with the same ears.

A small confession here: though I generally remember, I don’t specifically track which koans individual students may be working on. The result is each discussion is new and fresh, and stands on its own merits. A few weeks ago, in a twist of synchronicity, a couple of friends both happened to be working on the second part of the above koan at the same time: Cannot get wet; Cannot get dry. I rang off the phone with one, and the very next conversation was about the same koan. Both responses were wonderful.

The first friend spoke of his parents dying in a car accident when he was in his mid-40s. Despite the fact that he was an accomplished professional, with a lovely family and a great and interesting life, heavy and abiding expectations seemed to hang over their relationship. Though he loved his parents, when they passed, a part of him was greatly relieved. “I can’t grieve,” he confessed, “and I can’t not grieve.” Thirty years have passed. We hung up the phone; appreciative, emotional.

Next call. What koan are we working on? “Cannot get wet. Cannot get dry.” Oh, wonderful! What’s your experience been? The previous week, my other friend had joined in a club soccer match. After the match, he and his buddies had gone out to the pub for beers. Later, while walking and stumbling back home, a storm came in, and a driving rain began to come down. Warmed in spirit by the alcohol, and now soaked, he kept repeating loudly to himself, “Cannot get wet! Cannot get wet!” Suddenly, he fell into a mud hole, and continued: “Cannot get muddy! Cannot get muddy!” He made it home safe that night.

The grief, the rain and the mud do not dull the tapestry of our lives. They are the tapestry itself. I cannot get enough, I cannot get too much. I cannot.