veteran living newly as a monk
When I ponder the topic of how being ordained has been for me, I remember getting my hair cut. Claude AnShin gently dragged the razor against the skin of my head after Scott machine clipped the thicker clumps of hair. A group of onlookers made small talk during a very tender moment leading up to the ordination ceremony. How curious it is that this was 5 months ago. The thing about ordination: maybe it is more about other’s projections and expectations than it is the dynamic reality of living. I shave my head twice a week working against the growth I knew happened when my hair was long. The stubble growth is now a more understandable interval. I don’t know what it means to be ordained, or to look a certain way, to be in possession of stamps and certificates that say, “Full Ordained Zen Monk in the Soto Zen Tradition.” But I do know what has lead me to this point. With a lack of direction and a life of both curiously disguised and more obvious self-destruction, I simply kept coming back, again and again, to Claude AnShin, the practice, the sangha. At the first veteran’s meditation retreat in November 2007, I was desperate for direction and consumed by fear. From there, it was a simple process of doing the next thing, saying yes to the invitation to the formal retreat in December. Then the next after that and so on. Today I continue just to continue. When I experience grave doubt about it all, not just Zen practice, but the everything of life, I touch my suffering. I regularly experience a felt sense of deep offense, indignation, dislocation, my mind tearing apart what is blocking my escape. Then the doubt passes. And I simply return, again and again, to the practice, to the cushion, the meeting, incense offering, the clippers and razor…
There is the idea of ordination as I see others see me, their projections, assumptions and leading questions are informative. As far as I know, I should be cloistered, neutered, pasty with sublimated desires bursting forth in bad acts, and living among the same. One of my friends asks me why I shave my head - as if there is a correct answer. No matter what I say doesn’t seem to satisfy them or me.
There is the internal perspective in how I live in my skin. What does ordination mean to me, how does it change me, etc.. All I can say is I feel closer to my ordained sangha members, those who have taken a similar step. I feel closer and more connected to my ordaining teacher. The closeness is not unlike the bonded connection to others in my Ranger platoon, or with my children, only disarmed. If anything, I feel the ordinary of ordination when its definition refers to, “being elevated” among the lay people. I ask, how do I elevate myself or others and how do I deepen into what is ordinary?
Last, I take responsibility for myself for however the teachings may manifest in my life, in my actions, speech and consciousness. At the moment, this seems a manageable prospect, but other moments, it is terrifying. To continue to learn, evolve, and question my thoughts and feelings as they form my perceptions, sometimes this feels a glacial pace. Other times, life is a blur, where my gaze and focus can barely rest on something still enough to be reckoned.
- Dave MyoKo Edgar