Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Zen of Laryngitis

In Autumn, there is often a melancholy, not necessarily personal, just a deepening attention as the vine leaves crinkle yellowly and Persephone goes down into the silence of the underworld. Things settle. One of my grandmothers was the wild child of an old family and lived in a cold water shack and traveled about to pick fruit. At the same time she wrote a feature for the Hobart Mercury on the beauty of autumn leaves along the Derwent River. She came to rest in Autumn.

I taught a silent retreat in Seattle last weekend, here: The silence of retreat goes towards vastness and self sufficiency—relief from the press of the other's gaze, being up before dawn, the perfection of each thing that rises into the mind—the leaves crimson and gold like antiquated military uniforms, Mt Rainier in the window with its crown of snows and its own vast considered air of being actually a volcano not at all tame thank you, the rain sliding down windows, the faces in the street, the feet of the meditators. We lived down a level, inside the world.

And as I came out of retreat I developed laryngitis. It is a different kind of silence. It’s like being a very innocent child engaging the world in new ways. I call the border collie; no sound comes out and on she hurtles. I am outside the world like Marcel Marceau in the mime school exercise when he is separated from us by a glass box. I start to talk with the guys working on the house and when nothing comes out of my mouth, I point, I knock on things, I draw in the air. At other times I look into people’s eyes and hang my head, I look up to the sky and raise my hands. I draw a tear line from one eye. I shrug and walk away. It’s freeing, there are so many questions on behalf of which I don’t find it necessary to wave my hands. It is a different way of living down a level. I feel well disposed, amiable, absurd, honest, more inclined to make jokes than decisions. It's a helpless feeling but perhaps for that reason, it’s fun. It’s hard to do on the phone though.


SeaSpray said...

Oh well, at least it got you using your blog again. Get well soon!

Ed Levin said...

My koan is similar. I have been doing zazen for 42 years, 28 of them at Zen Center of Los Angeles. Four years ago my speech started to deteriorate, diagnosed as Progressive Bulbar Palsy. Now I'm an active 67 year old who can do everything except talk . One of the many ironies is that in 1974 Maezumi Roshi gave me the name Kenzan Mokunin (Firm Mountain, Silent Patience).  It seemed almost like a joke then, because I was the total opposite. Now I get to explore how central the spoken word is to one's identity as a human. Fun indeed.

fuyuasha said...

@John "more inclined to make jokes than decisions" that's lovely, get well soon or at least not until it might be better to have more time for more decisions ;-)
@Ed I have 3 somewhat sporadic but continuous zen (y)ears. I like talking as much as I like silence and I of course have the perception of generally having the choice. Best wishes on your exploration of the friendly unknown. Now I think about it 'choice' can get me into just as much trouble as 'no choice' ... something like that.