Amy Robinson does many things. She’s a mother of elementary-age kids and a poet and writer and an editor and a social activist and lives in a collectively-owned rural community. Until she began practicing with PZI, though, she kept the “poet and writer” part of all that to herself.
She came to the Santa Rosa Creek Zen Center in the spring of 2013 after a year of organizing with the Occupy movement, burnt out and searching. She attended a koan class with Rachel Boughton, and began having a regular meditation and koan practice (as regular as a parent of young children can have). If she was too busy carpooling and doing laundry and wondering how she would ever make money, she would at least sit for ten minutes at the very end of the night, and take a koan with her to sleep. Some movement towards freedom and confidence led her to begin to submit her work for publication. Now she is a Contributing Editor of PZI’s online magazine of Zen and the arts, Uncertainty Club. Here’s a piece she wrote a few years back, that has something to do with why she’s a member of PZI.
On Monday night at the Santa Rosa zendo we sat with the koan about peach blossoms. It went pretty much like this: A woman wandered in the mountains, and became lost. As she rounded a bend, she saw peach blossoms on the other side of the valley, and woke up. Later she wrote this poem:
For thirty years I have searched for a master swordsman.
How many time did the leaves fall?
How many times did the buds break open?
Yet once I saw the peach blossoms, I had no doubts.
On Tuesday afternoon my husband and I went for a walk to a hilltop on our land, a sweeping view to the west, the fog drifting in and grasshoppers hopping. As we walked back down the steep fire road, I looked up and saw a giant old madrone tree across the small valley. It was laden with clusters of red berries. It glowed among the firs. It shed its orange leaves into a skirt beneath its boughs.
It can be anything, I thought Monday night, sitting at the zendo. The peach blossom can be anything. The ticking clock. The sighs and creaks in the air around me. The madrone.
In the evening yesterday my three-year-old son and I drove down at dusk to collect eggs from our chickens. As we rounded a curve of road and passed our neighbor’s house he sucked in his breath and said, “Oh! Look at those purple clouds!” He paused. “And the moon! It’s morning!”
“It’s evening,” I said, a little sad about correcting him.
“Oh! Yeah. Eve-enn-ing. Evening.”
At the chicken coop he shined a flashlight into the boxes to see if there were eggs. We found nineteen, blue and taupe and peachy. I told him that to keep the chickens from bugging him he didn’t need to yell, that he just needed to be big, strong Milo. So he planted his feet and stretched his arms out wide, turning in beautiful jerky circles inside the dark of the coop, chickens regarding him from their perches above.
He ran through the garden under the darkening pink and orange sky, looking for sorrel leaves and the “big, bigpath” that he likes to take between the garden beds. He helped me pick one of the summer’s last zucchini, its flower still damp and folded at the tip.
I called him mountain boy as we walked down the road to the car. He said, “I’m not mountain boy. I need a rocket ship to climb a mountain.”
After dinner he wore his spaceship pajamas and climbed up on my lap on our old green sofa with the stuffing coming out. I told him he was my peach blossom boy. He didn’t argue with that.
Today a five-year-old girl I know is recovering from brain surgery.
Today a friend is remembering a baby he lost.
Today families are searching, aching, lifting the weight of the dead with their own hands, washed by sadness and also by silver light.
Today I had food on the table, a roof over my head, and a peach blossom boy who rubbed his snotty nose on my arm after refusing to eat his dinner. I had a six-year-old girl who found it physically impossible to be nice to anyone in her immediate family. I had more than a few moments in a locked dark room, recovering my patience, my sense of proportion, my center. Today I was generous. Today I yelled. Today I felt blessed, and also a little crazy inside my conditional skin. I had peach blossoms and madrone berries in the distance. I have many doubts, but I think I also have a little courage. And the patience to stay, most of the time, with what is here. And I see the love and dignity all around me, inside the things we carry, and inside the things we have to let go.
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You can read more of Amy’s work–both poetry and prose– over at Uncertainty Club.