Last night I dreamed of X again.

She’s like a stain on my subconscious sheets.

Years ago she penetrated me

but though I scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed,

I never got her out,

but now I’m glad.

What I thought was an end turned out to be a middle.

What I thought was a brick wall turned out to be a tunnel.

What I thought was an injustice

turned out to be a color of the sky.

~ A Color of Sky, Tony Hoagland, 2003

So often the smallest, but most wonderful gifts in our lives come from unexpected and unpredictable quarters. That which we believe was a lost chance, becomes an opportunity. What was a barrier, becomes a gate. An injustice, a color of the sky.

We recently held a one-week meditation retreat in the Santa Cruz mountains, and for most of the week, I had a nasal cold and nasty-sounding cough that seemed far worse that I felt. Jokingly, I compared it to the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail when he gets his arm hacked off in a duel with King Arthur: “Tis but a scratch!” But what I was most worried about was destroying other participants’ peace and quiet. When one of our folks began a shakuhachi recital, the flush of emotion in hearing the plaintive tones of the beautiful bamboo flute set off a coughing jag for me. I retreated into the bathroom, where I could cough and spit into the sink in private.

I often tell meditation students that, whatever their experience, good, and especially bad, bring that experience into your practice. What may seem like a brick wall, could turn out to be a tunnel. So, coughing away, I brought my illness into my practice. When we take up the koan No (In response to a student’s question, “Does a dog have Buddha Nature, or not?”, the teacher replied: “No!”), we become immersed in just this No. So, when we stand, No stands. When we sit, No sits. As I was coughing into the sink, No began coughing into the sink. And then No became coughing, and No started “Noing” into the sink. Finally, No became the sink, as well, and No was “Noing” into “No”. As that happened, I felt that my coughing was no longer some awful behavior, stealing other peoples’ joy and enlightenment. Rather, it became a rich part of the fabric of my life. And in some wonderful, and strange way, my coughing was a gift to those I had earlier thought I was offending. What I had thought was an injustice, turned out to be a color of the sky.