A monk asked Chao Chou, “What is Chao Chou?”

Chao replied, “East gate, west gate, south gate, north gate.”

The Blue Cliff Record, Case 9

In our school of Zen, “awakening”, “opening”, or just “seeing the nature (translation for Japanese kensho)” is an important part in coming to understand that we and all other things are not two, that we are not separate from our world. But that “seeing” can, and often does, come at any time and under unexpected circumstances. Awakening is not the result of something cleverly said, or even actions timely taken; it comes naturally, when we are ready. And we can enjoy it time and time again.

Last week, feeling a lazy bone in my writing hand, I threw out with little comment a short poem that appeared in commentary of the above case of The Blue Cliff Record. It was fun, and summed up how I felt about the summer:

“In the peaceful countryside, we enjoy our tasks.

“Drumming our full bellies and singing hallelujah.”

But I suspected the note would not be a barn burner, and it was not: Drumming Our Full Bellies garnered only about 220 views, according to Wix Analytics, compared to recent notes like The Sweet Taste of Cherries (506), about the passing of my first Zen teacher, and No More Separation (601), about the institutional delusion of separating immigrant families at the border.

But then I got an email from a friend with whom I talk frequently. Though only in his 40s, for the past seven years he has suffered from severe rheumatoid arthritis in his back, an unusual condition. The pain is severe, and he is forced to take prescribed morphine to partially relieve it. Fortunately, with the help of acupuncture, he has been able to reduce his daily morphine dosage from 75 mg to only about 15 mg, but has suffered painful withdrawal symptoms as he has reduced his intake. Shortly after I published Drumming, I received an email from my friend:

“Drumming our full bellies and singing hallelujah.”

This really resonated w me and gave me a lot of joy. I was with my son at the mall and we were in line to get something to eat when I came across this in my emails. So timely and appropriate. I did fill my belly 🙂 and did feel joy. The above lines help me become aware of the joy and beauty in life that lies behind our every-day actions! Even my withdrawal discomfort. I look at all of my life and I am so grateful for everything! Every bit of my life. It makes me want to share this with others.

Thanks for helping me on my path!

In speaking with him later, he recalled how his son later took him to the video game store and told his dad on and on about the different games. “He too was singing hallelujah,” my friend recalled. So the light, the nature, can come through any gate, as Chao Chou says above, at any time, place or chance. What made it possible for my friend to open his heart to the world just a bit more was the fact that he was not trying to exclude the hard bits ~ his withdrawal discomfort and the pain of his arthritis ~ from his life. As a result, those bits became a part of his joy.