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Buddhadharma : Spri 2013
SPRING 2 0 1 3 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY 35 When bestselling author Ruth Ozeki becomes a Zen priest, she finds out Zen and novel writing do not easily go hand in hand. Depression followed, and my mind, which in the early stages of the project had felt so lively and lucid, turned to sludge. Meanwhile, my mother’s Alzheimer’s was growing worse. We’d been forced to move her from the island to a city with a hospital where her cancer could be treated, and I’d moved, too, into a nearby apartment to be with her. Every afternoon, after a futile and frustrating morning of “writing,” I would visit my mother in her tiny bedroom in the nursing home, watching news of the Iraq war on television and listening to her tell the same stories, or fragments of stories, over and over again. Our minds were stuck in dull ruts of narrative that went nowhere. Eventually, as the dementia and the cancer got worse, she stopped using language, and we would sit, side by side, holding hands in a silence that was both an afflic- tion and a relief. I’d been meditating in a halfhearted way since I was a teenager, but when my father died, I got serious about it. I couldn’t do anything about sickness, old age, death, terrorism, war, or even writer’s block, but I could do something about my grief-stricken state of mind. I started sitting regularly, and then I met Norman Fischer and began practicing with his sanghas, attending longer retreats and sesshin. While my mother was undergoing radiation treatments, I sewed a rakusu, and shortly after she died I took lay ordination, or jukai. Norman is a poet, and we often talked about writing. On the back of my rakusu, Norman had written the alphabet, ending with a Z that morphed into the Japanese kanji for shin or