I am in the midst of planning my exit strategy. I want to do this elegantly. Cleanly. I want to be a pillar. Exemplary. I have been messy and seditious and hurtful and full of misdirected anger in so many other aspects of my life. And in this I want to be mindful, concise. I want to find that balance between taking what is rightfully mine and not taking anything from anyone else. I believe in infinity so this should not be a win-or-lose proposition. There is a Zen koan that goes something like, Best not to begin, but once begun, best to finish.
When I was younger I thought, well, that sounds scrimpy, not to even begin. How lame. Get in there! Live life! Begin! Begin! Begin! (And begin that thing over there while you’re at it!) But now? Now I get it. Because once you start something, it tends to take on a life of its own. It gets its hooks in you. Friendships blossom. Lovers become demanding. Children…don’t even get me started.
I got lots of inspiration of the every-journey-begins-with-one-step variety while I was growing up. (Growing Up = up to and including now.) But where is the advice on the subtle finish? Whom do I speak to about the charming conclusion? No one. Because no one wants to admit failure. And for some reason, endings and failures have become synonymous in our sad little culture. Finishing without failing seems like something marketable. Something important.
I am not a good finisher. I just want to walk away and not look back. While everyone is still laughing. I don’t like the sound of soulful, meaningful departures.
Just came upon this Zen koan and love it so much:
Seijo’s Two Souls
Chokan had a very beautiful daughter named Seijo. He also had a handsome young cousin named Ochu. Joking, he would often comment that they would make a fine married couple. Actually, he planned to give his daughter in marriage to another man. But young Seijo and Ochu took him seriously; they fell in love and thought themselves engaged. One day Chokan announced Seijo’s betrothal to the other man. In rage and despair, Ochu left by boat. After several days journey, much to his astonishment and joy he discovered that Seijo was on the boat with him!
They went to a nearby city where they lived for several years and had two children. But Seijo could not forget her father; so Ochu decided to go back with her and ask the father’s forgiveness and blessing. When they arrived, he left Seijo on the boat and went to the father’s house. He humbly apologized to the father for taking his daughter away and asked forgiveness for them both.
“What is the meaning of all this madness?” the father exclaimed. Then he related that after Ochu had left, many years ago, his daughter Seijo had fallen ill and had lain comatose in bed since. Ochu assured him that he was mistaken, and, in proof, he brought Seijo from the boat. When she entered, the Seijo lying ill in bed rose to meet her, and the two became one.
Zen Master Goso, referrring to the legend, observed, “Seijo had two souls, one always sick at home and the other in the city, a married woman with two children. Which was the true soul?”
From the book Zen Koans by Venerable Gyomay Kubose copyright © 1973; published by Henry Regnery Company.