We called our dog “Wabi,” from the Japanese phrase “wabi sabi”, meaning “beauty of imperfection.” I’ve always liked this phrase because of this meaning. It has a lot of depth, more than I’m explaining here. Life is like that for me. 15 years ago, I found myself at Bury St Edmunds, sitting in a barn on a black cushion. For the first time I had found something that felt genuine. I still remember my first interview with Genpo Roshi. He told me just to sit. Totally baffled, I carried on sitting and attending Sesshins.
There has always been a struggle as well as a determination to keep going. Without access to a regular teacher, I have found ways to continue. Lots of sitting, different teachers and my two Joko Beck books to keep me going. I’ve had a lot of ideas about practice, or to be more correct, life. I still get in a muddle, still have a temper. I would love to say I’ve changed for the better, but I just notice that there are all these areas about myself and others that are still unknown. I’ve heard that you’ll know your practice is shifting when you give more of yourself.
Recently I joined the Samaritans, not because I wanted to ‘give back’ anything but just to do it and find out. It’s been a struggle. The training is learning to actively listen to people without giving them advice or judging them. You are allowing them a safe place to be themselves which I think is a rare thing. Samaritans come from all walks of life. Lots of volunteers drop out very quickly, already a few from my group have because it’s just too painful for them. Talking to people on the phone can trigger all sorts of personal stuff and if you’re in a vulnerable space it can be destructive. Some people thrive on this stuff, others sink and some need a break. It’s early days yet for some of us.
So just sitting and being able to accept the imperfections of life is ongoing. I still want to practice and still want to go to Sesshins. I’ve always look forward to Sesshins. They’re precious and I’ve always really appreciated the chance to do another one.
We called our dog Wabi because when he was a puppy he was so fat he looked like a bear. He’s now one and a half and wafer thin. Somehow this is also true of practice, don’t you think?
Wabi on Mt Snowdon