Sunday, July 21, 2013
My poor car.
If you need a tangible sign of what life has been like the past year, just go out the front door of this house and look at my car. Get inside, sit in the passenger seat. I've been cleaning it up recently, but there is still plenty of desert dust baked into the interior; the effects of sun and dirt on the exterior; the wear on four new-ish tires. You can't open the trunk because the lock is broken and I've had to permanently secure it. The mileage is well past 200,000 miles. The engine light is on.
A round trip to Las Cruces is 120 miles, and I've been doing that commute an average of five or six times a week for the past year. My family is in Deming, yet all of my paid teaching and artistic work was in Las Cruces. That is, except for the occasional assignment in Albuquerque, a round trip of 480 miles.
Most cars would have fallen to pieces by now, like at the end of The Blues Brothers. This is a 2002 Honda Civic. It's been through a lot. But no car is immortal.
The car has gotten some rest the past month. Fewer long trips. I've been hanging around Deming, laying low after my assignment at NMSU and an exhausting theatre project. For the fall, I will be at the university part-time, and if we are getting by financially I intend to spend more time building a place for zen practice here in Deming.
To be honest, I rather neglected Deming Zen Center with all this theatre activity in Las Cruces, and so besides my own fatigue I've been directing more time and energy to this place and this handful of newcomers to the practice.
I have also been spending more time with my two sons. The elder brother is five, school age and beginning to take in this suffering world. The public schools around us are overwhelmed and failing, indicative of the destruction of public education that is taking place in the United States in the name of market economics and corporate domination. (Click here for an excellent analysis by John Bellamy Foster.) We will need to be so involved in his education we might as well be home-schooling along with child-rearing.
So, writing less, acting less; parenting more, and practicing at the zen center more.
It isn't very difficult to keep one's own practice going even at a breakneck schedule. Because I taught acting classes, I could get away with wearing Thai fisherman-style pants that are very comfortable for plunking down and sitting between classes. Two hours of driving a day allowed a private space for chanting. If I did not wake up early enough to do prostrations at home in the morning, I had ample time and space to do them during the working day.
All of that was fortunate. However, just practicing by myself all the time is not the point. Zen practice -- especially for older students who have taken vows as dharma teachers -- is to be done for, and with, other people.
Out here in the Chihuahuan Desert, so far away from our other affiliate centers (the closest one is in Las Vegas -- the one in Nevada, not the one in New Mexico), one aspect of my practice has been neglected for several years: kong-an practice, the process of question-and-answer interaction that takes place, knees to knees and face to face, between zen teacher and student.
Kong-ans lend a lot of mystique to zen, but in actual practice they aren't mysterious or "woo-woo." The interaction is, however, an art, and it gets rusty on you if you don't practice it. For years, during the time I lived at or near established zen centers, I was able to practice with a teacher on a weekly basis at least. Out here, it's been once or twice a year.
We have been here five years.
When we can afford to fly her out, our teacher visits Deming. Within minutes of her arrival in June, she sat me down and told me we were going to get very modern and address kong-ans together via Skype and email, whatever it takes to do it regularly. And I'll look for ways to get myself to retreats at her center in Kansas, too.
Oh, and I may be in the market for a car, soon. This old one deserves a viking funeral, when the day comes.