Every morning a teacher called out to herself, “Master!”
And she would answer, “Yes!”
Then, “Are you awake?”
“Don’t be fooled by others.”
-The Gateless Barrier, #12
“Now, my dears,” said old Mrs.
Rabbit one morning, “you may go into
the fields or down the lane, but don’t
go into Mr. McGregor’s garden: your
Father had an accident there; he was
put in a pie by Mrs. McGregor.”
“Now run along, and don’t get into
mischief. I am going out.”
But Peter, who was very naughty,
ran straight away to Mr. McGregor’s
garden, and squeezed under the gate!
-From Peter Rabbit,by Beatrix Potter
A Tale of Two Naughty Horses
Among the peas and radishes, beans and basil, some people have rabbits in their garden, early morning thieves, eating freely of the tender leaves and shoots, radishes, beans, herbs and lettuce. For a rabbit, a tasty array. And for a horse…?
I have two horses here on the farm, Flare and Ruby. Flare, an older horse and part pony, is the smarter of the two. Ruby, a thoroughbred, has an attitude, pushing the limitations of field, barn and stable. I think it is Flare who has figured how to escape the barn. It is Ruby who takes full advantage. So, the other day Flare unlatched the door that opens into the barn and before I knew it they had escaped from their stall. I have some sweet feed stored in an aluminum can in the main part of the barn. Ruby knocked it over and when I went back to tend to them for the evening, both horses were frantically scarfing down the feed. As I arrive, Flare rather contritely steps back into the stall. Not Ruby, she makes a run for it exiting from the main door of the barn. It may be her pedigree…,what do they say at the racetrack? “And she’s off…” in a full gallop making for the house and just beyond the house, the garden. I grab a rope and her halter with the hope that I can lasso her, and return her to the barn. In hot pursuit but still a distance away, I see Ruby turn towards the garden, trotting towards the corn patch, her coat bright in the summer sun. Stepping up to the corn she takes a bite and eats an entire plant. Just as she is taking her next mouthful, I get close enough that she stops eating and takes off, galloping over hills and across fields, further and further from the barn. I chase her from field to field until finally she tires and trots back to the barn, waiting for me to open a door and let her into the stall. Some gardens have rabbits, I have horses. They take bigger bites.
So, if Peter is a naughty rabbit. Flare and Ruby are naughty horses. Never too naughty myself, I am attracted to the mischievous, the playful, the naughty. Sometimes I have been known to encourage children to stretch the borders of what is acceptable. Sure, it looks like conditions are perfect for a snowball fight. You want to play hide and seek in the church sanctuary? I don’t see why not. Ok, let’s see how far you can swim outside of the area marked off for swimming. Once when he was a child at summer camp, my Dad was chasing a butterfly with a friend. When they reached the boundary of the camp, they looked at each other and stepped over the fence in pursuit. Bully for him. Good job. I remember my own flirtation with naughty. It was a midnight in my youth when I went with some friends to hunt frogs. The naughty part? We never asked the farmer whose pond we were visiting if we could hunt there. When we heard his dogs coming after us and saw a pair of headlights over the hill we took off, scared AND amused. To be alive!! Stepping outside of the boundaries is to stretch the limits of self definition, to celebrate life outside of the borders. It feels something like saying Yes!
I think of the barriers that I put between myself and life. Like the fences on my farm separating my land from my neighbor’s, I employ barriers. They bound the territory, enclosing or encapsulating the David I believe myself to be, unique, separate, different — from the trees and flowers, from neighbors and friends. God, Buddha, Allah or whatever you want, too, is separate, say in the Pure Land, or “up” in heaven, occupying another field, another territory that is far from me. These barriers can be deeply held beliefs that I carry around and use to explain myself and my difference to myself.
- I don’t fit in.
- I had a lousy childhood and so I am like this.
- I have to work hard for others to love me.
- I am worthy/unworthy of other’s praise.
- I am socially awkward.
- There is a better life for me if only….
Barriers/beliefs enclose the territory. But, it is like this: what separates me also binds me. With belief, I range only within my self image and definition. This is to live in exile, from self and other. Life is bigger than this. Nothing less than eternity beckons.
Knock, Knock. Who’s there?
Last Spring, some carpenter bees bore holes and fashioned homes for themselves in the wooden siding of my house. In late June the assault on my house continued when I woke to the sound of a downy woodpecker drumming as she excavated the bee holes, digging out the tender bee larvae. The constant and consistent drumming awakens me. Life pulsates, she raps and calls.
Right here, wherever “here” is for you in this moment, the universe is thrumming: Wake Up!! drums the rain on the roof. Wake Up!! drums the flower by the path. Wake Up!! drums the sadness felt at the death of a loved one. Knock. Knock. Knock. Always and in all ways she knocks, drums. Here’s your chance.
- The barn door opens and Ruby makes for the garden. Yes!
- The butterfly flies out of bounds. My father, 11 years old, is in pursuit. Yes!
- The farmer’s engine starts up and headlights approach across the field. Yikes!!!! Hahahaha! Yes!
The incessant thrum of life sounds and we find ourselves in the rhythms, awake to the seamlessness. Joining the pulsations of the moment the heart, not separate, resounds, “Yes!”
The koan is vast, encompassing and moves easily over boundaries. “Master!” There is a call. “Yes!” is a response. This practice is seamless, continuous and unending. Call, response — who calls? Who responds? As I write, the white pine trees outside the window dance in the wind. So, here is the voiceless voice, a mysterious call from I know not where. Out of the dark recesses, feels like the heart, there rising in me, equally mysterious, “Yes! Yes!”
Is this what it is to be awake?
Oh yes, one more line: Don’t be fooled by others. Others? Well, that would be me somehow co-opting awakening, creating barriers and beliefs where none are necessary. That would make me other than myself, split off from here. So, for now I appreciate finding myself in the stream, in the on-going dance of life, as the pine boughs sway, as I work with students, tend garden and keep chickens, cows and horses. It is nice to be here at the keyboard. As I write, the dog, Panda, sleeps at my feet. This feels like trust, a faith in the dark, uncertain and unknown.
Master! Yes! Just this. Call and response joined.