For seventeen years, I have followed a Buddhist path. I meditate, study Zen, read books written by great masters like Pema Chodron and Thich Nhat Han, and practice Mindfulness throughout my day. It is because of my practice that I am able to manage the chaos that comes from raising a child with disabilities. But despite all my practice and study and research, I had hit a spiritual brick wall. It was time to find a teacher.
Rev Zenju Earthlin Manual is the woman I consider my teacher. Ever since I heard her speak via a Zen Center podcast, I knew I had to meet her. I read her books, followed her blog, listened to all the teachings I could find, and finally contacted her to ask for a meeting. A few days ago, we met at her Oakland “Still Breathing Meditation Center.”
The first thing that struck me about Rev Zenju was her calming voice and smiling eyes. She seemed tired, but eager to meet me and talk. As soon as we sat, she offered me Jasmine tea and then she asked what she could do for me. I told her about my child, my struggles with grief and worry, how hard I’ve been practicing and learning about Buddhism because I felt it helped me take better care of myself and my daughter, and how I felt that I’d gone as far as I could on my own and I really needed a teacher to tell me what to do next.
She smiled and urged me to stop practicing.
Huh? I thought practicing was the most important thing.
Shaking her head she smiled again and said, “You’re too much in your head. You need to be in your body.”
Then she reminded me that life is not a journey or a path. The eight fold path isn’t a roadmap and there are no steps to master in some kind of enlightened sequence. I have spent so much time studying and practicing I’ve forgotten that the point of all that study is to live. Just live.
“Life is lived one breath at a time,” she said. With those words, a great weight was lifted from my chest. We laughed about the ways we both fight so hard to figure things out and make plans. You’d think living would be easy, but it seems to be the hardest thing for everyone.
Studying Buddhism and practicing meditation has strengthened and sustained me. I have learned how to balance the chaos and have compassion for myself. The basics are there and I know the path. Now it’s time to live.
Breath in… breath out… breath in… breath out…
I hope to return to “Still Breathing Meditation Center” each month and meet her other students. And I hope Rev Zenju doesn’t mind if I call her my teacher.