My infant daughter Jordan doesn’t let me sit zazen. All day, she conspires with her older sister Erin so that when the toddler naps, the infant is awake and when the infant naps, the toddler is awake. The day is a blur of diapers and drool, tears and laughter, and when at last night comes and they both fall asleep, I sit down on my zafu and pass out.
This would be discouraging, but I find Jordan has become my new meditation and spiritual guide. She frustrates my ego at every turn, constantly popping my self-absorbed bubble with her piercing cries, demanding to be the queen of my attention. She cries if I so much as read a magazine while bouncing her on my knee, as she will be placated only by wholehearted efforts. “If you bounce,” she says, “just bounce.” Sacrificing all my petty indulgences, such as reading, napping, or eating hot food, is usually enough to keep Jordan happy, but there are moments when she won’t be easily consoled and my wife isn’t around for my “Here, I think she’s hungry” line. I swing her about with my arm in different positions and start pacing in different tempos, usually getting faster and more frantic as I lose more and more of my patience and I’m left at last with just enough compassion and magnanimity to not throw her out the window. If I’m able to breathe deeply at this point and find a bit of space, I notice that this ragged desperation is precisely what I felt during my first sesshins, when my legs would burn with pain and the timekeeper would let the sitting period drag on beyond any humane limits. Sitting through that impatience beyond whatever boundaries I had imagined for myself was a valuable practice that I somehow missed in my later sesshins when my legs didn’t hurt so much, and here Jordan gives me that same opportunity with no robes, no incense, and no leg pain.
I recall one night when Jordan woke up and couldn’t fall back to sleep with nursing or a clean diaper, so I dragged myself into consciousness muttering and whining at the hour and my intractable fate. I picked up the baby and started to walk through the aqueous 3 A.M. air, navigating the living room with slow clumsy steps like a deepsea diver, weighed down still by my unconscious. Gradually, I picked out an oval to follow around the floor and we did kinhin, round and round on an endless path. We stopped at one point and I threw back the curtain that hangs over the sliding door to the deck so I could put Jordan on my hip and look out on the darkness. As I leaned my forehead on the cool glass, I heard her coo, an unexpected sound of happiness, so I looked down and saw that she was bathed in a silver glow that ended halfway up my chest. I crouched down to her level out of the shadow of the eave to look up, and there in a cloudless sky was the full moon, Jordan’s first. We stayed there awhile, leaning against the glass, soaking in the moon bath until Jordan’s eyelids finally fell and it was time again to sleep, for as long as Jordan would let me.
No, my infant daughter Jordan doesn’t let me sit zazen. She makes me live it.
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