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Buddhadharma : Winter 2014
58 buddhadharma: the Practitioner’s quarterly winter 2 0 1 4 dozens of completed or nearly completed essays and short stories—nearly half a million words. Gone. As I mentally prepared to visit the dying man, I felt like I was dying a little too. That laptop contained a portion of myself that I would never get back. With such a key part of my identity now gone, I felt a compulsion to prove my existence. I couldn’t just sit peacefully, like the Zen priest I am, while waiting to report the crime at the police station. I had to whip out my iPhone and check my email. Then I checked Facebook. Then I checked my book ranking on Amazon. Then, because a sufficient amount of time had passed—about ten seconds— I started over and checked my email again, my thumbs banging the screen like a kid on a sugar high pounding on a piano with two hammers. How can a Zen priest be so self-absorbed and distractible? Perhaps meditation has simply honed my awareness to the point where I can clearly see how imperfect I am but has in no way helped me change this fact. What a horrible practice! You know it’s bad when you’re blaming your meditation practice for the stress in your life. But I was heart- broken over all the work I’d lost and enraged at the universe for being chronically unfair, so I gave my better angels the finger and searched for affirmation on the Internet instead of powering down my phone, taking a deep breath, and accepting the fact that something dear to me was probably gone forever. I met with a handsome young police officer who told me in so many words that my laptop was, for all practical purposes, on the missing person of Jimmy Hoffa, and that when they found him, I’d get my stolen words back. Then I set out for the medical center where, I imagined, the sick man was putting off dying until he could have a few words with me. The heat and the nicotine from the lozenges were giving me the kind of headache where your skull feels like the drum set in a Swedish death metal band. My breath raced as I phoned the desk nurse from the clogged 10 freeway. “Please let the family know I’m running late.” There was a long silence. I’d called twice already to delay. “Hurry,” she said. “He’s not going to make it through the night.” “Sorry, sorry, I’m stuck in traffic,” I said. In reality, I was lost. I typed with my thumb while hitting the brakes and gas, and my iPhone told me where I needed to go. I need an app for spiritual guidance, I thought. I can’t even let go of my laptop. How can I look into the dimming eyes of a dying man and tell him that he needs to let go of this life? I searched the radio for inspiration. I was psych- ing myself up instead of calming down. Bad idea. Nobody wants to look up from their deathbed and see a priest smiling down at them like he just did a line of coke. I punched seek over and over and got The Bee Gees’ “How Deep Is Your Love.” Fantasy time: I imagined walking into a hospital room filled with Taiwanese people. Slow motion, my robes flowing behind me. I put my hand on the shoulder of the dying man’s wife and simply erase her sad- ness with my smile. I hug the old grandmother. “You white but you okay!” she cries, and the whole family bursts into laughter. The dying man cracks a smile too. I take his hand and his eyes open. The wife’s lower lip trembles. “He...he hasn’t moved in seven days. But you...your presence...it moved him. Literally!” Life went silent as I turned off the Honda in the medical center parking lot. Golfers swung silver clubs across the street; an orange grove sprawled for miles below me, speckles of fruit bedazzling the verdant valley. There were tears in my eyes thanks to the Bee Gees ballad, which was still buzzing through my nervous system like too much coffee. How deep is your love, how deep is your love, I really need to learn... I put my head on the steering wheel. I was in no way ready to face a dying man. We once hosted a workshop at the monastery for recovering alcoholics. I befriended a philosophi- cal nurse who rightly described herself as “beastly fat and very angry.” I confessed to her that I hated being a monk. She confessed to me that she hated being alive. She went on: “Finally one day I ShOZAN jACK hAuBNER is a Buddhist monk in the Rinzai tradition and the author of Zen Confidential: Confessions of a Wayward Monk (Shambhala). he writes under a pseudonym.