An Ordinary Story of Fear
Writer/Illustrator: Brian Thibodeau
I’m very drawn to Zen philosophy when it comes to creative living. When I was newly married, my wife and I lived in an old row house in the fan of Richmond, VA. Having found a wonderful human being who profoundly shifted my existence into balance–I was finally finding time to read. [ I had previously written in my journal, “When one cannot find time to crack a book or draw, one’s life is in serious crisis.” ]
Each night before bed, I was reading The Art of Tea by Kakuzō Okakura and Kakuzo, as well as studying Zen koans from a book called Bring Me The Rhinoceros by John Tarrant. I have come to understand that books such as these represent “living books” (A Charlotte Mason reference). The composition of the words opened up a world of ideas, morals, stories, and anecdotes in a way not even my previous readings of Thich Nhat Hanhn or the Dali Lama had done.
Many of the Buddhist books I had read prior where almost instructional in nature–spelling out philosophies. But, The Art of Tea and Bring Me The Rhinoceros where much less literal–and at times completely nonsensical. Instead, they told a story. Sometimes the story was symbolic. Sometimes it was literal. And sometimes it just was what it was–that being the point.
About this time, I began researching spaces I might attend in order to meditate. There was one particular building I would pass often while walking our dog–an old house like my own, but repurposed for meditation practice. I called them on the phone. They explained a schedule of times for beginners and for the experienced.
I wanted to go.
I imagined walking into the space and removing my shoes. The smell of years of incense seeded deep within the decade old walls and furniture. I imagined greeting new people and sitting on a zafu cushion–noticing how it felt comfortable enough to sit on, but awkward enough to stay mindful. I thought about how the session would begin and end with the sound of a Bonshōbell.
There would be further study to participate in. I would invest my faculties into understanding the ins and outs of Zen. I might even find a very specific aspect of Zen to really excavate–such as Koans. I would attend the monthly movie night–the content of which would be thematically Zen. I would know these people. I would know Zen.
I think I called back one more time to ask about attire. It was just a few blocks away. I never showed up.
Even today, when I’m walking the city streets among spiritually dedicated structures–no matter the religious affiliation–I want to just go in and sit.
I want to look.
I want to breathe.
I want to see.
When I look back on this experience, I rationalize that I did show up in some ways. The anticipation occupied a place in my mind which made me investigate and feel something. Perhaps that was enough.