Ryushin Sensei and I were recently invited to a middle school to speak about Buddhism. The students there were exploring the theme “Be Where You Are.” As part of the visit, I guided a group in art practice with clay. After we’d had a chance to warm up and work with the clay for a bit, I invited the group to take up expressing the feeling of love. I said, “Does everyone here love something?” And everyone said, “Yeah!” and piped up with the stuff they love, cars, horses. (I remember Trungpa Rinpoche said, “Everybody loves something, even if it’s a tortilla chip.” I always liked that.) We each brought to mind something we love and I encouraged them to just feel that love—not what the thing is, but to feel the feeling, and just let their hands do what that feeling is doing. While they’re working, I’m taking in how everyone is responding to this exercise, which is really asking us to concentrate, to stay open, present, responsive, and to not-know.
There was a lot of nervous energy, kids coming in and out of their own experience, looking at each other. I could see one fellow struggling with knowing and not knowing. He would get the concentration going, he would be with the clay, with the feeling, and then you could see him pull away, like he couldn’t handle it. He would have to talk out loud, make a plan for what he was creat- ing, like, “I’m going to make a...” but then he’d let go again, and release back into not- knowing, eyes closed, just feeling the clay in his hands.... He was moving in and out, working with that clay, trusting the mystery of its form taking shape. But then finally he said, “There! I made a couch.” Mystery solved. One moment we have infinite possibilities, the next, he knew something. Dead on arrival. He stopped concentrating. This is Mara taking over, saying, “You can’t not- know what this is!” You could just see the tension: Don’t know. You can’t not-know. Don’t know. You can’t not-know.... This is what we do.