This Saturday marked the six-month anniversary of my move to Maine, a place I’ve been drawn to since childhood, when I came here a few times with my family.
On that morning, I woke up early to prepare to give my first zen talk here. I’m amazed I’ve been able to do this so soon. I assumed it would take a long time to find interested people, and that I’d be living my zen life privately, like a hermit. I wasn’t bothered by this prospect; in some ways it felt comfortable and safe. But a friend invited me to give a class at her house, and to our surprise, people responded with curiosity and enthusiasm.
I should have been nervous that morning; I can be shy, and at some level I don’t feel comfortable putting on a uniform of priest robes (four layers of them!) that sets me apart from other people. It offends my sense of democracy, and my conviction that everything in the world is teaching us in every moment, if only we care to listen.
All that notwithstanding, I’d committed to talking to a group of people, many of whom I hadn’t met, about impermanence and how to love it. This is the central vow I took when I ordained — that I would share whatever I learned and try to help people in their quest for joy and meaning. This is what I promised to do. But as a private person, talking about the things that matter most to me isn’t easy. What if people don’t understand? What if they fall asleep? What if I walk away feeling I should have done better?
As I was attempting to gather myself, I got to the bottom line. The bottom line is that for better or worse, this is me — the deepest thing I have to offer of myself. All I can do is muster the courage to make the offering; I can’t control how it’s received.
So I donned the four layers and rang my friend’s beautiful crystal bell and opened my mouth. I felt like myself. And at the end, instead of the silence I expected, other people shared themselves in return, offering questions and insights from their own lives.
To me there’s no better feeling in the world than offering your self, and having it be something that people actually want.