I enjoyed the opening paragraphs to this book so much that I thought I’d share them with you – I hope David Brazier forgives me if I put this link here so you can buy his book for yourself.
ONE COLD SPRING DAY
My first encounter with the therapeutic power of Zen occurred in my first interview with my first Zen teacher on the first Zen retreat I ever attended. This was some twenty-five years or so ago. It became a turning point in my life. For some years Buddhism had interested me, but this was the real test. Now I was exposing myself to the experience and a large part of me was prepared to be disappointed.
We had been in silent meditation for most of the day. Outside the weather was sharply cold. The snow which had fallen the day before had frozen, overnight, and crunched under our feet when we went outside for short breaks between periods of sitting.
When my turn came, I went upstairs to the little room above the meditation hall, knocked, was invited in, entered, and sat down. A few moments of silence passed. I imagine that she was giving me an opportunity to begin. I stayed silent. She must have sensed my embarrassment. I was shy.
She looked at me in a very direct way. It was impossible to divine her mood, but I sensed a kindness in her eyes. After what seemed like an age, but could only have been a minute or two, she helped me out:
‘Is there anything to report?’ she asked.
In the context, this was a very open question. I could have used it almost any way. It could have been a basis for talking about technicalities of meditation practice. I could have used it as a springboard for a report upon my life. However, I was now even more paralysed than before.
There was something about her whole way of being which prevented me from saying anything trivial, and in that moment everything seemed to fall into that category. All the things which had seemed so important about my life before I entered the room now no longer seemed consequential at all. This seemingly simple question, ‘Is there anything to report?’ somehow demanded more than a commonplace response. It seemed to demand: ‘Can you say something which is ultimately true? Can you say it now?’ Although a thousand things flashed through my mind, nothing in my life seemed to pass the test.
Then, it was as though the universe rescued me. My life dropping away, all that remained was the two of us sitting face to face, in a room on a cold day with the window open on to the frozen garden.
‘The birds are singing,’ I said.
It was an exchange of nine words in all, yet it contributed substantially to changing the direction of my life.
Ah, the birds are singing. And so are we.