wash your bowl

September 13th, 2007

blue-bowlA monk said to Joshu, “I have just entered this monastery. Please teach me.” “Have you eaten your breakfast?” asked Joshu. “Yes, I have,” replied the monk. “Then you had better wash your bowl,” said Joshu. With this the monk gained insight.

Two days ago I had a letter in my mailbox from Seattle. I let it sit a bit before I opened it, while I percolated to ripe fullness with its fragrant possibilities: the gushing thanks, the unexpected accolade, the irresistible offer that it contained.

I live this way a lot, squinting around the curve, anticipating what I’m about to get. Don’t we keep expecting to get something? In particular, to get “it”? To figure “it” out? To reach a culminating resolution, reward, complete understanding, wisdom, clarity, closure, the right answer, the holy grail? That very expectation fills us up and weighs us down.

The letter was nothing I dreamed of. It was a note from a long-lost cousin lately relocated from Japan here to the States. She has adopted a daughter, a Japanese girl, and wouldn’t it be lovely for our sisterless girls to each gain a cousin?

I cried at the long circumference of the circle.

She told me that she had a woodblock print of a fountain at the inimitable Ryoanji Zen temple in Kyoto. The print reads, “I am content with what I have,” she wrote. No, not quite, she corrected herself, capturing the subtle depth of the teaching, “I am content with what I lack.”


Upcoming retreats:

Beginner’s Mind One-Day Retreat, Los Angeles, Nov. 10, 2013

The Plunge: a One-Day Retreat, Boise, Idaho, Oct. 5, 2013



  1. More than honored to be your kissing cousin!

    Excellent post. I have a lot of curve squinting tendencies . . .

    Comment by Mama Zen — September 13, 2007 @ 1:35 pm

  2. Wow.
    Content with what I lack.
    Letting this one sink in slowly.

    Comment by bella — September 13, 2007 @ 3:54 pm

  3. Yes, you do rock! I know that feeling well of waiting for “it.” I got an envelope of that nature today, but the contents were not at all what I had hoped. Definitely content with what I’m lacking today. Thank you.

    Comment by Shawn — September 14, 2007 @ 12:31 am

  4. I’m loving your blog. What insightful and inspiring posts.

    Comment by shauna — September 15, 2007 @ 10:22 pm

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