At six this morning, an alarm went off in our house. I've heard the burglar alarm--there was the time I came home in the dark and couldn't find my glasses to disarm the system. I heard the smoke alarm last time I made homemade pizza. But I had never heard this particular sound before. I consulted the LED panel: "Water Alert."
We've had quite a lot of snow and rain recently. More than I realized, in fact. The water table is unusually high, and this morning my nice less-than-five-years-old basement was wet, Really wet.
So I got out the wet/dry vacuum and used it wet--possibly for the very first time. I can't remember ever doing it before. I filled it up pretty fast, and that's when I remembered that a gallon of water weighs eight pounds. So that means a 20 gallon shop vac full of rain water weighs--what? 160 lbs., that's what.
I've been working with Lojong slogans the last few weeks, thanks to Norman Fischer's terrific new book, Training In Compassion: Zen Teachings on the Practice of Lojong. I don't intend this to be a discussion of Zen adaptation and adoption of this Tibetan teaching, interesting as that might be. Rather, I want to talk about a couple of those slogans from the standpoint of one who has been sucking up water for the last ten hours.
Slogans 11 and 12 are: Turn all mishaps into the path, and Drive all blames into one. (I see #12 as just a variant or refinement of #11.)
A Zen way of saying Turn all mishaps into the path might be "Your best teacher is always in front of you." So how should I vacuum up a cellar full of water with this attitude in mind? Put down opinions, for one thing. Don't bother about what is "good" or "bad." Just work. Just do what's in front of you without any idea of gaining something. That was actually easier than it sounds, once I realized that in fact there was no "gaining." As soon as I vacuumed up water, it came right back again. I haven't gained anything that I can see.
Drive all blames into one. Why did we build this house with a basement? I didn't exactly oppose the idea, but I did question it. We live next to the ocean. How would we ever keep the place dry? Oh, it's going to be totally waterproof, I was told. No problem. Technology is wonderful You'll see!
I also wanted gutters on this house, but was told they were aesthetically undesirable. They were simply too ugly for the style of house, and besides they were unnecessary, as I had already been told.
None of the people who told me these things five years ago was available this morning to help vacuum up the water, of course. I'm sure they're busy all afternoon as well. So I have plenty of opportunity for blame. But the slogan tells me that the real blame (if there can be such a thing) rests with my opinions and preferences and my inability to find some good in this situation.
Some good? What good can possibly come from this? What is there to be learned from using my whole Saturday sucking up water?
The answer is Patience. Norman Fischer calls patience "my all-time favorite spiritual quality." We might imagine there has to be some easier way to learn patience, but there really isn't. The only way to increase patience is to run right up to the edge of our limits and take one step over that line for a while.
Actually, it's continuing.