Jim Snarski is also known as Captain Jimmy because he was a longtime commercial jet pilot and now flies small planes taking sick kids and their families to places they need to go. He’s been with PZI for a while now, sits at the Zen center in Santa Rosa and comes to retreats, and helps out as a volunteer when he can. He’s a member. This is why:

I learn a lot about life from the movies. The other night at the zendo, Numa, Patrick and I somehow got on the subject of the Big Lebowski. In the closing scenes of that film, Jeff Bridges as The Dude is talking to Sam Elliot as The Stranger in the bowling alley. As the Dude departs, clutching two beers, the Stranger says “Take it easy, Dude. I know that you will.” The Dude turns back, smiles, and says to the Stranger, “The Dude abides.” Elliot turns to the camera and says “The Dude abides. I don’t know about you, but I take comfort in that. It’s good knowing he’s out there, the Dude, takin’ ‘er easy for all us sinners.”

This got me wondering about what it means to abide. The dictionary offers several meanings; the most pertinent I think defines abide as “to endure” and “to be patient.” I can only speak for myself as one of them thar sinners when I say that before I came to PZI, I wasn’t very good at abiding. Oh, there were occasional forays into abideness but they never seemed to last long. To endure anything was only on an if-I-absolutely-had to-basis and patience was a quality as rare as a rainbow in the Sahara.

And then, a few years ago, a dear friend suggested I stop just reading about Zen and actually participate. What a concept! As time went by, in a turn of phrase I’ve heard often from people whose lives have shifted, something happened. Now I don’t know if it was the sitting, or the teaching, or the example of my bodhisattva companions suffused with the ability to abide but I found myself abiding more and more. Oh, not all the time and not always well but nonetheless far better than the pre-Zen me.

As the Stranger so cogently observed, “sometimes you eat the bear and sometimes the bear eats you.” I suspect I’ll never be able to abide perfectly and that’s okay. I’d like to be out there takin’ ‘er easy for all the beings of the world but that ain’t gonna happen. So I’ll just abide as best I can when the need arises and think of the immortal words of Oliver Twist, standing with his bowl clutched in his little hands before the master and pleading,”Please, Sir, I want some more.”

This is one of Jim’s favorite photos. It is the plane he managed to land safely upside-down and then – because of meditation, koans and abided-ness – from which he walked away unharmed.

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