We Sit at the Turning Point
Zen work, or spiritual work, or freedom work is alive and well and living in every one of our crises of faith. Another way to say this is that Zen work lives at a significant turning point in our spiritual lives. Each of us sits here on this planet, and to the extent that we cannot see that each moment is a turning point allowing us to realize the possibility of awakening to freedom, we are imprisoned by our belief systems and our opinions.
Crisis means “turning point.” The Chinese word for crisis is made of two characters, “danger” and “opportunity.” So, in the present moment there is an opportunity for freedom, but there is also the danger of not choosing freedom. And then beyond that, there is the danger of reacting to not being free in unskillful or harmful ways. This is when we hurt ourselves or attack others. But if we open to the dangers that always surround us, we are, at the same time, opening to the opportunities. But if we close to the dangers around us we also close to the opportunities. The opportunities and the dangers are still there. It is just that we close to them.
When I say open to danger I’m not suggesting that you become afraid of the dangers, although some of the time if we open to danger, and we haven’t seen it before, we become afraid. So, for example everybody who is reading this column right now is, in some sense, meeting danger. What if you read something that challenges a long-held faith? What if something in this column throws your previous thinking about what is true into question? If this happens, you are in danger of having your belief system collapse. Then who are you, and what is the meaning of your life?
So, it’s dangerous to expose yourself to ideas that contradict the beliefs that sustain you. Reading this column can awaken you to the danger you face each time you listen to someone who disagrees with you, or who has a point of view different from yours. That can be frightening.
But it is possible to open to this danger and not be afraid. Even if there is fear, we can open to the danger of that fear. We can allow ourselves to be in a crisis, or at the turning point, of fear. There is great opportunity in a crisis of fear because if you can see the dangers of the fear, you can also see the opportunities of the fear. You can be free in the middle of fear.
Being free in the middle of fear means clearly and calmly looking at the fear, and clearly and calmly being present with whatever danger is arising. If we can do that, you can also be clear and calm in the presence of the opportunity. If you are shaking with fear or shaking with the danger you are also trembling with the excitement of opportunity – the opportunity to get on the horse of freedom and ride into a new and deeper realization of spiritual possibility.
But if cling to our fear by clinging to our belief systems we won’t realize that this moment, like every moment, we can climb on to that horse of freedom from our conditioned beliefs. At all moments, we sit at this turning point.
The building that holds the apartment where we stayed. It was in old Quebec so we didn't have to go far to wander in the very European-like streets.
Fresco on the square in front of our apartment. We could see this from the apartment window. Below is a close-up of the fresco. It's actually a flat concrete wall.
Wandering through the streets of Old Quebec
Mais toujours. VIVE LE QUEBEC LIBRE!
We spent the day on Ile d'Orleans driving around the outer perimeter of the island and stopping at various artisans to taste their wares and do a bit of shopping. The St Laurence River starts getting really wide in Quebec and it's close enough to the Atlantic Ocean that the tides affect the river levels and the salt content of the water. Note the long thin strips of farmland on the north side of the river that were formed when early farmers divided the land with a shrubbery hedge to bequeath farms to their kids when they were old enough to leave home and start their own homesteads.
After the winery we visited and apple cidery where we bought some thyme apple cider vinegar and some onion marmalade (very surprising) after tasting mustards, relishes, marmalades and jellies.
I, of course, was interested in the churches so we stopped in a church built in the 1600's where, I'm afraid, Rita had a relapse to her days as a Catholic. I think it all started the night before when she stopped outside a shop that displayed images of the Virgin Mary. It's dangerous to take recovering Catholics to a place like Quebec City.
At typical village street. I love this shot.
We stopped at a barn converted into an art gallery that has the work of 53 artists and we bought a painting for our collection of travel paintings.
Sandy and Nancy in front of the Jardin d'Art.
This viewpoint was our last stop on our trip. Au revoir to the Ile d'Orleans.
Today we are going to the Museum of Civilization in the morning for a daytime walk in Old Quebec City and then on to a mall where we will give blood, buy an ankle support and some shoes with arch support for me (Walking is so hard!) and who knows what else?
We are now staying in an apartment in the heart of old Quebec with my best friend in high school, Sandy, and her sister, Nancy. The van is parked in a KOA campground just outside of the city. We'll be here until Sept. 14. Last night we went for a walk in the neighbourhood around here and stopped at a restaurant called, "Cochon Dingue" for a delicious raspberry dessert called, "Carre aux Framboise," a raspberry thingy that was served with thick vanilla cream. Here's some photos of Old Quebec at night.
A bit blurry, but you get the idea. She's standing in front of a fresco (painting right on the wall of a huge building). We can see this fresco out our apartment window.
This is the oldest church in Canada and I'm going to meditate there when it opens to the public on Wednesday. It's Catholic, of course, and built on the footprint of Samuel de Champlain's settlement. I've meditated in the first church built in France so - here goes.
Rita, Sandy and Nancy walking up Petit Champlain Street on our way to the restaurant and just generally oogling the sights.
Hotel Frontenac sits on top of the cliff. Photographed from the lower streets in Old Quebec.
Enough of Quebec City at night. Rita has fallen in love with this place and wants to come back for a holiday. Off we go today to Ile d'Orleans, an island with it's own eco climate where they grow a lot of the food for the province. Rita says she's very excited about the day. More later.
The drive through Ottawa was tough. We couldn't find a by-pass route to Hull so had to navigate noon hour traffic jams and inadequate road signs through the downtown area. But I did learn to change lanes without crashing into anyone. After a few hours we reached our campsite Mont-Tremblant, north of Montreal and finally, are doing some real camping.
We have a beach, fall colours and are camped in gentle tree lighting beside a gentle river. (La Diable) Too cold for swimming this morning, but maybe this afternoon. The sun is shining and the sky is blue. We've had a lot of rain since coming into Ontario
And then the roughest camping we have done yet at my sister-in-law's house in North Bay. So good to visit family and Rita spent time chatting away with Andrea, a friend from law school whom she hadn't seen for 20 some years. I talked with Andrea's husband, a United Church minister, about meditation, and how the only place, in his language, to meet God, or, in my language, to realize the emptiness of all things, can be found is in the present moment. A conversation right up my alley.
Below are my nephew, Brad, my grand nephew, Brock, my nephew's wife, Becky, and the hands and lap of my niece, Alix.
And here, as my mother would have said, is the whole fam-damn-ly. (Except my sister Barb who is cooking her brains out.) This photo includes honorary family member, Mike Harris, my recently deceased brother's best friend.
And one last picture before we leave for Quebec. This is me telling an embarrassing joke about my teen-age life with Mike Harris. I won't repeat it here, but you can see that I made him blush!
Whew - what a ride. We arrived early at Canadream to pick up the van but still didn't get out of there until four o'clock. This made for a long second day drive with no stops - not even in Drumheller to visit a dinosaur. We missed the first seven hours of Saskatchewan because we drove on a back road to our first campsite at Swift Current. I tell you, it's no joke for two seniors to organize for sleep in a camper van when they have never done it before. But we did manage to sleep enough hours to get up at 6:00 am and on the road again.
Rita waking up in Swift Current and asking where the washrooms are. (We decided not to use the on board washroom - ewwww....)
View from the campsite - out first glimpse of Saskatchewan.
As you will see ... the view repeats itself many times.
And Saskatchewan. The colours are so soft!
Up again early to drive eight hours to a KOA campground just past Portage La Prairie - arrived late, made our first meal (boiled garden potatoes, garden tomatoes and green beans) in the van, whom we have named, Mable. Too tired for photos. But I can say that I've never thought of Manitoba as a prairie province until now. We were well into the province before we were treated with some green trees.
At last some green trees and a lake! We took on three houseflies in Portage La Prairie, all of which Rita, with some amazing Bruce Lee techniques, eliminated. And then Ontario between Manitoba and Thunder Bay.
The best part of my childhood and adolescence was spent on an island in Lake near my birthplace. As we drove above Lake Superior, the scrub spruce, the mixtures of moss and lichen on the rocks, the small island in the small lakes and even the quality of light stirred that special childhood happiness that I knew when I was on that island.
Nope - it's just Lake Superior in all her vastness.
We are now resting from the camping life in a Mariott Hotel in Sault St Marie. Off to North Bay to visit my family tomorrow. It will be an easier day since instead of it being an eight-hour drive, we'll only be driving five hours.
We both awakened at 4:00 am - maybe a little excited about starting the trip. Packing took about half an hour since we had done most of it yesterday. (Hard to believe that was yesterday - seems like we've entered another time and space.) Last minute packing is always completely necessary, and who can go anywhere without a box of Kleenex roll of Cling Wrap?
Rita was such a gung ho driver that we didn't stop in Cranbrook for coffee, we didn't stop in Fernie for coffee and a snack. She did stop, however at the Alberta border.
But not for long. She finally listened to her stomach instead of her drive-on mind and pulled off in Coleman so we could stop at Coleman's little jewel of a restaurant and have lunch. I thought I was back in the eighties when I saw a phone booth. We didn't test our iPhones, but I suspect there was no cell service.
Hwy 22 to Calgary was loaded with Albertans heading to BC for Labour Day weekend. There was no doubt that we were in Alberta when we saw this.
Surreal, isn't it?
I'm sending this from the Acclaim Hotel near the airport in Calgary. We pick up the camper tomorrow at 2:00 pm and then off to Saskatchewan. I know this is a little boring - but hey - it's the first day.
Tomorrow morning early, Rita and I are driving to Calgary to pick up a CanaDream camper van.
We'll be driving all the way to Halifax where I will be attending a Zen retreat with one of the senior priests in my order and giving a dharma talk on the topic, "The great way is not difficult; all you have to do is stop picking and choosing." We'll be blogging on the way there so if you want to follow our trip, check in here from time to time.
Kuya Minogue is resident Priest at the Creston Zen Centre. She has been training in Zen since 1986.