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Mar 26
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Arts and Poetry
Conversations With My Son
Mushim Ikeda Nash, photo courtesy of Facebook.com

Mushim Ikeda Nash, photo courtesy of Facebook.com

Conversations With My Son

By Mushim Ikeda Nash

Mushim Ikeda Nash is a writer and Zen practitioner, community peace activist and member of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, diversity facilitator for Bay Area Buddhist Groups and Naropa University, and mother of a teenage son.

In the following essay [reprinted with permission from the archives of the Shambhala Sun], Mushim Ikeda-Nash traces her path as a parent through some of the humorous, poignant and penetrating conversations she’s had over the years with her young son, Joshua.

To be a mother is sweet,
And a father.
It is sweet to live arduously,
And to master yourself.
O how sweet it is to enjoy life,
Living in honesty and strength!
The Dhammapada

One summer morning in 1983, during a three-month meditation retreat, I was assigned to sweep the sidewalk in front of the temple. The teacher, a strong-willed Korean monk, had declared “no talking,” and in the “silence” which we humans so often fill with chatter, I discovered a world rich with sensation: the fly that suddenly buzzed at the window, the hiss of a candle flame, the breath circling through my body—all felt equally alive and wonderful.

Using a heavy push broom, I worked my way down the sidewalk. A large black beetle, startled, leaped from a crack in the cement and scrambled across my path beneath the upswung broom. The sky went black, my body melted, there was an electrifying split-second in which I was simultaneously looking down at the beetle, and gazing up into a great darkness. Then, as if in a dream, I lifted the broom off the sidewalk and saw the beetle stagger, right itself, and run off. My heart was pounding, and tears of relief filled my eyes.

All beings want to live and be happy. A potent and inescapable truth had inscribed itself into every cell of my body. My life and the beetle’s were equal expressions of Life itself. We were distinct, yet we were one. We were vulnerable to one another, having changed roles and forms countless times in previous existences. We were intimate.

All beings want to live and be happy. From this realization emerges the first Buddhist precept: Not to kill, but to cherish all life. It has been said that the precepts, which some people first view as restrictions or commandments, are actually koans, unsolvable riddles that we must nevertheless answer in each moment. A few years later, possibly the greatest koan of my life was put to me in the unlikely setting of a Seventh Day Adventist Hospital in Seoul, Korea, where a kindly American doctor informed me that I was pregnant. My head shaven, dressed in the gray garments of a Buddhist nun, I had in my knapsack a few clothes, a small amount of cash, and the return half of a round-trip ticket, U.S.-South Korea. The situation was clearly impossible.

“Do you intend to keep the baby?” the doctor asked.

To my own astonishment, I answered immediately and without doubt. “Oh, yes!” I said. A second later, I thought, “I must be crazy. How can I do this?” And again the answer came strong and clear: “You can do this because now you are a mother.” To step forward, to join lay life, to embrace the human future, this was to be my spiritual path for many years. Yet, unlike the decision to begin monastic Zen training, this decision came easily, perhaps because I was not making it alone. Tiny but definite as a candle flame, my son had joined me. We would make our way together.

Click here to read the rest of the essay on the Shambhala Sun.

Shown here by permission of Shambhala Sun magazine, a non-profit publication of Shambhala Sun Foundation, www.shambhalasun.com.

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