Sharing experiences from PZI’s recent winter retreat—our way out of darkness is through opening our heart-mind. 

Yunmen taught, “Everybody has a light inside. When you’re looking for it, you can’t see; it’s dark, dark, hidden. What is this light that everybody has?”
He himself answered, “The kitchen pantry, the temple gate.”
Then he said, “It’s better to have nothing than something good.”

~ The Blue Cliff Record, Case 86

This morning we completed our winter sesshin, and it is said that while in retreat every possible emotion will show itself over the course of those six or seven days. That the heart-mind naturally comes forth in all its variations is the very basis of our inquiry work. Last night, before bed, I took my dog out and was nearly in tears at the beauty of the world illuminated by a full moon after a few days of much-needed rain. I composed a poem as I walked:

Blue leash and black dog,
Feet splash puddles of full snow moon.
Broken clouds, adrift.

The above Yunmen koan also allows us to dip into the dark, the shadow. In giving a talk to the group, I spoke of my first Zen teacher, Robert “Senor” King, who spent his early childhood in the Japanese occupation of Manila, Philippines during World War II. During the cruel occupation, hundreds of thousands of Filipinos perished. As a child, he contracted poliomyelitis, which disabled his legs for life. Senor King lived most of his life alone. But in an unpublished collection of poems he left me after he died, he left a long poem about a brief affair he had with a young woman 20 years his junior. It reads in part:

Our loving
flowing, freely gentle,
melting, delighting
our hearts, bodies

It was such a joy for me to read the poem. It may be difficult to always see the light that is inside us. But it is always there, and it never fails us. It is the light that shines in the most common of places: in the kitchen pantry and at the entrance gate. And it is something very good.