‘One tock! And I forgot all that I had previously known.’

~ Gateless Barrier, Case 5: A monk describing the sound of a pebble striking bamboo while he was sweeping up.

KEN IRELAND, a long-time member of Pacific Zen, spoke at Portola Camp last week and shared this story with us:

‘I woke up this morning missing my mother who has been dead now for several years. Given the contentious quality of our relationship for most of our 60 years together, I am surprised that oftentimes I find tears in my eyes when I think of her. I still remember phone calls when she slammed down the receiver, our long periods of not speaking, her steely resolve that I was going to somehow go straight, and marry.


In the last short years before she died, I was able to touch the pain these behaviors were covering, which took away their power to hurt and allowed me to feel a love that I could not have imagined.

My mother was having a serious heart episode so I flew to Tucson and on arrival joined a family melodrama: my father had taken off and my mother was brawling with her sister and the hospital staff. Before her surgery, she could only have small ice shavings, so I sat with her in her room, held a plastic cup and gently spooned the ice shavings onto her tongue. For what might be her last moments of life, I was with my mother, just her, just this spoonful of ice, just my breath and hers. The ice clicked against the side of the plastic cup as I scooped it up. Just that moment was enough for this gay son and his mother.

We couldn’t have hoped for more: the patient got well, father returned and the family crisis was temporarily resolved. I boarded Frontier Air for the return trip to San Francisco.

As I stared out the window looking over the brown desert and clear sky of Death Valley, I felt mesmerized by the wonder of the world. The flight attendant offered me a second Diet Coke with ice. I took a big gulp, and when I swirled the ice around the cup, it clinked against the edge. In an instant my mind tumbled and I was no longer ‘me’ in a plane over Death Valley, but ‘me’ as my mother’s life–I mean really, not some theoretical proposition–all of it: her hopes her pain her struggles her fear her birth her death. I burst into tears and sobbed. Any trace of resentment, regret, and bitterness about the way my mother had treated me over the years evaporated. She was just my mother, and I was finally able to enter into the mystery and wonder of being her son.’