So one night I am Skyping with my Great Teacher, a monk/priest in the Zen Buddhist tradition. As we are wrapping up the teaching, he asks me….”Are you awake?” I said…um…yes. I think so. Being awake requires one to be present in the moment and actually pay attention to what is happening in that moment all around you moment after moment. It’s the ability to be that way in each and every moment…something that escapes me 99.99% of the time every single day! When I try to be awake in the moment and pay attention, I try to hold on to that feeling, that presence of mind. This particular evening, I thought that when we get done with our teaching session, I would try to hold on to this thought long enough to walk through the house and onto the deck to tell my partner about what it meant to me to be awake. Now, let me also say that that requires walking through five small rooms to get to my deck. I am not proud of the fact that it took me literally two rooms to lose my present moment. I thought to myself, this is hard….remaining completely present in the moment and only being in this moment alone. I almost instantly and without any effort leap to the future or go to the past. It is very hard work maintaining “awakeness” every moment…moment after moment. Needless to say, by the time I walked through the five small rooms in my house to get to the deck, I had worked out so many things in my head, planned several events, figured out what we should have for dinner, redesigned my bathroom, etc. etc. all in my head and at the same time realizing that that is exactly what I was doing and thinking to myself…how is it that I can’t hold onto a thought for more than a nanosecond? Living in the moment, paying attention to the here and now takes practice every single day. On the rare occasion when all the stars align and I can actually stay in the moment for more than a moment, I feel more, I hear more, I see more, I love more….I am aware of more than just myself. I am awake…..even if just for a moment…..Zen Ragamuffin
Zen Ragamuffin: 3/19/15
A ragamuffin is usually described as being a small child, usually female, who is dirty and wears torn clothing. I am not a ragamuffin in that sense, but after watching the movie, Ragamuffin, the story of Rich Mullins, I feel that I have found a new direction in a ragamuffin way. Rich Mullins was a Christian singer/songwriter who was a sad, lost man trying to find his own truth. He ultimately found it in his music and helping others. He was just himself. He didn’t care what other people thought about him or how he dressed, what he said or whether it was a typical Christian answer to typical Christian questions. He answered from his heart and a lot of the times it was a very profound answer that was real. He smoked cigarettes and drank. He wore old t-shirts with jeans that had holes. He always wanted the approval of his father and finally got some peace with his father just a short time before he was in a car crash that took his precious life at the age of 41. He was just a peaceful, loving guy with a lot of inner turmoil. He had a lot to say and he said it through his music that moved people all over the world. People could relate to him so much because he seemed to speak to that part of the human condition that doesn’t feel good enough about themselves. He became famous, but that is not what he wanted and that is not where he found his happiness, his true spirit. He found it within himself, through accepting the circumstances he had with his father, his music and the choices he had made.
I can relate so much to Rich Mullins in a lot of ways. I have always had some sort of calling. I have always been a seeker. The thing is I didn’t know how to just be myself and say what I needed to say without fear; fear of rejection, fear of condemnation, fear that I wouldn’t be liked or that I would be judged or that I would be wrong about what I say and not know how to defend what I had said in the first place. I have done this for most of my life.
In the past, if I said what I wanted it usually wasn’t very skillful. I never used to think about what I said. I would just blurt it out and not think about the consequences or who it might hurt. I didn’t have any thought of what it might do to someone else. I just thought I was “right” so then I must say it, but what I know now is that I was using this as a way to hide who I really was and I also didn’t know who I was. I knew that I hurt inside and that I was lost. I didn’t fit in anywhere and I felt very different. There was definitely something missing in my spirit, but I didn’t know what it was. I wanted more always. I wanted to be accepted, but I also wanted to be different from everything I saw around me. There was an ache inside, a sadness, but a drive to figure it out. That’s what I have been doing for the last 25 plus years. One thing I know more than anything else about myself is that I was supposed to be a momma. My boys are the one true thing in my life. They are me, and I am them. I couldn’t breathe without them. I don’t know what I did before them. But I also knew there was something more about me that I had to find out.
The part of my spirit that had been missing was a sense of who I was besides being a mom to my two boys. All of that changed when I found Buddhism back in the 90’s. I knew when I evolved into Buddhism that I found my true self-calling. I just didn’t know what that looked like and all the studying I did or meditating I did didn’t seem to answer the questions either. They made me feel better, but the more I studied, the more I meditated and hung around with like-minded people the more I questioned. I wanted to do something, but I didn’t know what the force was that was pushing me forward and I still had so much to learn. I had many more trials to go through, relationships, parent problems, personal traumas to deal with, but once I got through a lot of that stuff, I still had a hole to fill. That’s when I found seminary or seminary found me.
I have been in Zen seminary now for a year and a half. I have studied hard, read tons of stuff, meditated more than I ever had before and with a new mental attitude toward it all, but what would I do with it? I knew I wanted to be monastic. One of the things I thought I wanted more than anything was to live in a cave somewhere in India or Tibet and meditate until I die, but being a mom and having responsibilities didn’t seem to push me in that direction. Part of me longed to be alone, to just have quiet, to sort things out….what things I am not sure. I just knew that there was not enough time, space or quiet that could help me figure that out. Then my Great Teacher said something to me one day that made me rethink things. He said something like, what good could I do people if I was stuck in some cave or monastery in some far-off land? I honestly didn’t know and nobody had really asked me that before. I just knew that what he said made sense. I wanted to help people. I wanted to teach people, but what could I teach them? I wasn’t good enough. I didn’t like anything I really had to say, but I had so much to say. I didn’t feel good about my art, but I had so many drawings and paintings in my head. I had so much to write but I never wrote. I was just frozen, just stuck. I didn’t feel good enough to do anything with anything I was learning or building. The closer I came to ordination, the less worthy I felt with each passing day. I just wanted to do something.
I kept thinking that maybe I was supposed to open a Zen center and teach meditation and teach the Dharma, but how? I don’t have money to buy a place or even the cushions to sit on. And besides I wasn’t good enough to give a talk, teach anyone, and even if I did have the balls to teach something, someone would just question it and I wouldn’t have a good enough answer. I was never more stuck and unsure in my whole life. Then I ordained…..
The first time I would get angry after my ordination or say shit or damn or get frustrated with my little one or have an argument with my partner, I would feel more and more unworthy. How could I be a Zen priest who couldn’t control her own emotions? I wasn’t worthy. I didn’t fit here either. What was my direction? How could I help someone else if I couldn’t help myself?
So one night I was talking to my Great Teacher, and he told me about the movie, Ragamuffin, the story of Rich Mullins. I thought to myself, what could this possibly have to do with me? The answer is everything!!!! I truly think this movie has helped to set me free. What this movie is about is learning how to be free, be myself just like this..HOW TO BE ME…JUST ME…..JUST ME!!! REGARDLESS!!!! Being me just the way I am is Zen, Zen in the moment, whatever that looks like.
So I am sitting here listening to some of the best damn music ever…kirtan by Krishna Das, smoking my e-cig and finally writing about what is going on, saying it freely without too much worry. I still have doubts, but I am working on it slowly but surely, and it starts right now. I have a whole lot to say, and I am going to say it regardless. It doesn’t matter if people don’t like it. It doesn’t matter if people don’t understand it. It just is. This is what it means to me to be a Zen Ragamuffin. Being myself, with all my flaws, just being my hippie momma-vegan-eclectic-Zen priest self, making mistakes, saying things that matter to me but taking other people’s feeling into consideration the best way I know how and just helping all the humans and non-humans to the best of my ability with love. I don’t know if what I have to say will ever help someone or not. If it does, that’s awesome! If it doesn’t, that’s cool, too. But from now on, I am going to put it out there. I am going to at least have the courage to try so that I don’t look back when I am taking my last breath and say I sure wish I had tried. That’s a Zen Ragamuffin!
Only Love and Peace
The Zen Ragamuffin
Rev. Jachong Charama