Skip to main content

Every Minute Kindness

There's a story I heard once, about a couple of enlightened Zen masters.  One of them goes to see the other one rainy morning, and when he gets there, the one he's come to see says to him, "When you came to see me today, did you leave your umbrella on the right side of your shoes, or the left?"

The visitor realizes he doesn't know, and that he doesn't know because he wasn't fully present when he put down his umbrella out in the entryway.  So, without so much as drinking a cup of tea, off he goes, back home to study Zen some more.  He puts in another twenty, maybe thirty years, getting himself well and truly enlightened this time, so he can really call himself a master--

--a master of every minute Zen.

Which is, I suppose, a pretty good thing to be.  But it's not my goal.  I want to be an every minute Quaker; I want to practice every minute kindness.

I think I already know what that would feel like, at least a little.  It would feel like this:

When I was a little girl, my grandparents owned a cabin--a "camp" in the Maine vernacular--out on a lake in Maine.  There were tall pine and cedar trees, but there were also humming birds, loons, and neighbors stopping in to talk to my grandfather about fishing, or to trade recipes with my grandmother.

And on the door to their cabin was a screen door.  Not a cheap metal screen door, mass produced and for sale at Home Depot, but a proper wooden screen door, with a tightly coiled spring halfway up the door to pull it closed, and a hook and eye you could use to fasten it if you chose, but no real latch.

That screen door stood open, the only barrier between the warm, lumber-smelling inside of the camp and the pine-needles and sunlight smells outside.  That door was always full of breezes, and birdsong, and family and friends coming and going all day long.  And every time it would open, as whoever it was would run lightly out into the world or the world would run lightly in to visit, that door would say the same thing...

ScreeeEEAk... BAM!

My whole childhood, all the memories of water and sunburn and mosquito bites and love, somehow can be translated with the cry of that door:  ScreeeEEAk... BAM!

That, that memory, that sound... that is the sound of a heart that is fully open.  Friends can come, friends can go...   ScreeeEEAk... BAM! 

Or maybe just the sound of the soft breezes in the pines overhead, or the leaves on the swamp maples, the far-off whine of somebody's motor-boat, or even the call of a loon.  The screen door is open to them all, welcomes them all, stand merrily in the midst of the flow and the ebb of them all.

If my heart becomes like that door--if I can learn to stand open and ready, like that door, I will have learned the art of every minute kindness.  I will have become an every minute Quaker.  If friends stop by, I will greet them.

If God stops by, I will be ready.

Hello, God!  So glad you're in the neighborhood.  Want some iced tea?  A sandwich?  I was just sitting down to lunch.  Come on in and sit for a while.  Or--I know!  Wait a sec--  I'll be right out to you!

ScreeeEEAk... BAM! 

(May my heart be open to the breezes, filled with a cheerful noise.  May I grow kind; may I have a welcoming heart.)


Images: Deeds of the Zen Masters, Hotei; Lake and Dock, Peter Bishop.

Comments

Kel said…
G'day Cat
you have a real way with words
since I've started visiting your blog, there's always something which resonates
the imagery and 'soundery' of the screen door banging with a visit from God is delightful
Yewtree said…
Dear Cat, you are one of the most open-hearted people I know.
Kadeeae said…
Have your blog on my 'blogroll' and have been "lurking" for a couple of months now.

It is always a pleasure to read, insightful and I often connect with what you've said. That was so very true of this post, my own grandparents had a tiny cottage in the woods and I can't count the times that changes in my own life were preceded or ended with the famous ScreeeEEAK...BAM!'s of their proper wooden screen door . . .

Thank you =)
Lady Jake said…
Beautiful. Blessed be!
M. Ashley said…
I was thinking what a wonderful grounding tool that sound can be for you. Sound has such a strong connection to our subconscious and can instantly pull us out of whatever cloud we may be losing ourselves in at the moment. For me, it is the sound of a low-flying propeller plane--though I have no idea why. Whenever I hear it though, I instantly relax and feel myself and my senses open to the warmth and spiritual glowing of the world. Thank you so much for sharing this.

Popular posts from this blog

Confronting Racism, Yankee Pagan Style

I am a Yankee.  Right down to my Pagan soul.

My understanding of what it means to be a Pagan is to try to live in right relationship with the gods, the land, and the people, including the ancestors.  My gods are those that are comfortable in New England’s woods and hills.  My land is this rocky landscape of New England.  And my people and my ancestors–on Mom’s side, at least–are New Englanders: sea captains and dairy farmers, teachers and laborers.  Whatever granite is in this place or in my ancestors lives on in me and in my Pagan practice.


And that granite is why I am so driven to speak out against racism.
To help me explain what I mean, I’m going to go ahead and borrow an ancestor: my friend Kirk White‘s father.
A Yankee like a Rock Kirk’s ancestors, like mine, were among the first Englishmen to arrive in North America.  Like mine, this landscape was where they found their home.  And like me, my friend Kirk and his family before him has loved New England–Vermont in his c…

Bears Eat My Lettuce

I love where I live;  since moving to our new home four years ago, I've been able to build a relationship with a piece of land for the first time since I was a child.  It's everything a dirt-worshipping Pagan could ask for.  I have a garden, and I grow much of my own food, and that is as much a spiritual delight as a taste treat.  And I have woods again as neighbors: glacial boulders, white pines and black birches, owls and white-tailed deer.

And bears.

And the bears eat my lettuce.



I'm not kidding about that.  Oh, it's winter now, and the bears are huddled up in their dens.  But this past spring, I grew lettuce.  Award winning, gorgeous lettuce: three different kinds!  They were nourished to extraordinary size and succulence by the cool, wet weather we had, and each night, I would gather just a few outer leaves, knowing that careful tending would mean tasty salads for months.

And then, over the course of three days, the bears ate every single one of my lettuce plants…

The Saturday Farm

I love Saturdays.

I have come to think of the work that I do on Saturdays as "farming."  Now, I know it isn't farming--not really.  We have a medium-sized vegetable garden and two dogs, and that's not a farm, by any stretch of the imagination. 

But I keep thinking of a comment Joel Salatin made in Yes Magazine once, about how Americans have become used to thinking of our homes as centers of consumption, but how once, thinking of your home as a center of production (typically, a farm, for most of us for most of our history) was the norm.

And between trying to live with less plastic junk and trying to eat more sustainably and locally, Saturdays at home have become very productive days.  And that productivity--the willingness to substitute patience, skill, and thrift for consumption--I've come to think of as a species of farming.  (My apologies to actual farmers, whose work I increasingly appreciate.  But thinking in this way works for me, somehow.)

First thing this…