Mr. Pang was selling baskets.
Coming down off a bridge with his arms full, he stumbled and fell.
When his grownup daughter saw this, she ran up and threw herself down on the ground beside him.
“What are you doing?” cried Mr. Pang.
“I saw you fall to the ground, so I’m helping,“ she replied.
“It’s a good thing no one was looking,“ remarked Mr. Pang.
Falling has been a theme in my life this year, how about you?
I've noticed that there are many ways in which falling and helping seem to correspond to each other. I have felt that our country is falling into disarray and my impulse is to figure out how to help, what to do. I write letters, sign petitions, make phone calls, listen to phone calls, and march! I don't know if it really changes anything, but I do know it changes me. I have never paid so much attention to politics in my life! Everyday, I wonder, “what’s happening today?” I have a keen curiosity, some fear, and lots of hope about our country and the world. What more could I ask for out of a moment or a day or a life?
I have recently had an intimate relationship with falling. On January 1st I fell and sprained my ankle and broke my foot. It was an intense experience and carried moments of acute awareness of the magic and mystery of life. There were also many people who came to my side to help me. It was a peek into the goodness of humanity.
As I was falling I became consciously aware that I was falling and that there was nothing to do about it, other than, surrender to it. Splat! Flat on my face in the ocean water, the sand, and let me just say – The ground! Plop!! I didn’t know if I should laugh or cry! That’s the moment I imagine Mr. Pang was expressing in the above Koan when he says; “thank goodness no one was looking.” He says this not because of being embarrassed, but because when you are entirely in an experience you are having, there is no one looking – there is only sand, water, pain, and the magical way in which time slows down into a slow movement through every moment of the experience.
This past week my partner asked me to help her hang a rope from our balcony which required me to go upstairs to help. As I began to go up the stairs, I stepped on an area rug at the base of our stairs. The rug slid right out from underneath me, both feet swung up into the air and I landed flat on my butt. I fell back, banged my head on the floor and then, just laid there in disbelief! Ouch was there, but so was the awareness that once again, I was fully in the moment and movement of falling. In those split seconds prior to landing – my consciousness was aware of every second of the fall. The thought arose in that moment, again, to just surrender to it. There was nothing to do other than give myself to the falling. And here again is the helping and the falling – helping my partner and falling in the process.
Over the weekend, I decided to go for a bike ride along the ocean where we live. There is a little dirt path between our neighborhood and the boardwalk that runs along the ocean. The path is maybe 100 yards long. I was riding home on this dirt path, thinking about this Koan and my experience of falling and the awareness that I noticed along with both experiences. The dirt path, at that moment, narrowed and changed levels. All of the sudden I was headed straight for a post that stood in the middle of the path. I forgot I had brakes and my bike drove right into the post and I crashed (yet again). I banged my stomach, my leg, my thigh and my ego on that post! All I could do was laugh. Of course, no one was looking. I laughed out loud. I was in disbelief that yet again I had fallen and I had that great moment of conscious awareness arise as my bike wobbled uncontrollably right into the post! Bang! Ouch, Ouch, Ouch!
So falling has become very interesting to me. This discovery that falling on the ground, while awful, is also wonderful – the taste of sand, water, the hard cold floor, the pain, the post, the feeling of silliness or carelessness or even fragility and vulnerability – this is the experience of life itself, is it not?
My experience this past year with an awful diagnosis has been and was (as I am healed now) a profound experience of falling too. We all try so hard not to fall, not to fail, not to make mistakes, not to get sick, and yet we all know that those very things are what constitute a life – our life – and without them – whatever they may be – life can lose its luster – its brightness.
What is true for me is that when I am falling, there is no alternative, there is only falling. There is a side to falling, and to this Koan, that suggests that what is happening shouldn’t be happening – like the man at the coffee shop who fell behind my chair on his way to his table. I "helped" him up and asked him if he was okay and he said, I’m so embarrassed, my ego is the only part of me bruised.” I think as we get older, we think falling says something about us – and perhaps it does. We are fragile and vulnerable. We aren’t nimble or limber and therefore we must be bounding toward the harsh reality that death is around the corner or at least closer than we thought it was.
I know that has been something that has crossed my mind many times this past year – but I also realize that along with that thought there is a precious tenderness that arises with it – an appreciation for this moment – each moment I have with life itself as it unfolds in its unique and unpredictable ways. We are invited into a kind of intimacy with our falls, our mistakes, our disappointments and it also makes room for the experience of love – for ourselves and for the life we have, falls and all.
Here are some questions for you to think about. If you feel inspired to write about any of them, please share your thoughts with me.
How have you fallen down in your life – physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually? I know people who, for example, think that if they don’t meditate every day and meditate well (whatever that is) then they are falling down on the job of awakening.
What is falling like for you?
How do you feel about yourself when you fall?
What do you notice about this Koan in your own life?
Happy falling into your life.