In the Sea of Ise, ten-thousand feet down, lies a single stone. I want to pick up that stone without getting my hands wet.
~ Pacific Zen Miscellaneous Koans
Almost always, if we approach koans with openness, they will reveal themselves to be surprising fresh and free. Since first working on this koan many years ago, I have always thought it was about picking up a stone. But in recent months, I have had a chance to revisit it several times with friends, and now I feel is also about the sea, the wonderful adamantine sea.
Earlier this week, I was visiting with a friend who is keeping company with this koan, and as we talked, I felt as if we were floating together in a vast ocean with its many inhabitants and features. He expressed deep anxiety over allowing, a couple of weeks ago and in this COVID time, his transgender son to fly out to see his mother. Recently, in a huge family blow-up, she had moved several states away. Legally my friend could not stop his son from traveling. Key was the fact that the mother and son had a very troubled relationship: she had never acknowledged his transition, pointedly refusing to even call the son by his own chosen name. But the trip flipped from being a source of great angst to one of immense surprise: the young man’s mother had dramatically turned around in her approval of his life choices. “It was a huge game changer,” the son remarked with joy on his return. The Sea of Ise opened up, fresh and free.
That night, I dreamed my own family was on a scuba diving trip to Brooklyn, New York. We were to dive into a dark-water channel in an industrial-factory area near where the Hudson River meets the Atlantic. I was there first, and standing on the dock in my gear, I looked down into the ink-black water, and expressed to the dive instructor my concern that the narrow channel might be heavily polluted and muddy at the bottom. He simply said, “No, it is clear. You will see.” The two of us jumped in feet first, and held onto a kind of diving structure shaped like a stainless-steel warming table, which quickly took us down into the darkness. As we went deeper, the water became more clean and clear, and the bottom was clean gravel. I looked far up to the surface, and could see the light streaming down into the darkness. Feeling at ease, we returned to the surface quickly and safely. The dark Sea of Brooklyn held a surprise.
Writing this morning, I hear the rumble of my wife’s sewing machine downstairs. She is sewing her second-dozen of cloth masks, far more than we need; her friends have all been sewing, too. For hours, I dreamed of COVID last night, mostly about protecting myself and others from the virus. In one dream, I met a band of Uighur herdsmen, known for their fierce fighting, and together we faced into the viral firestorm. They wore black adamantine masks as a shield against the disease, and it saved them.
Print: Upsara Offering Longevity. Thank you Mayumi Oda, the Original Goddess!