Yesterday my wife and I watched "Dot" at the Salem Film Festival. It's a documentary about an extraordinary 82 year old woman from Ashland, Oregon who believably claims that her life is ordinary. From the film's web site:
Dot Fisher-Smith is a mystical masterful artist, a war resister, an environmental activist, a community presence, a jailbird.
As a great-grandmother, she chained her neck to a log truck to protest salvage logging of old-growth forest.
Yet she calls herself a mistaken Buddha and her own life ordinary.
This moving documentary is an intimate portrait of life and death through the eyes of 82-year-old Dot.
I really liked the film.
You could do a lot worse with a $20 entertainment budget than buy a DVD of "Dot," invite some friends over, open a bottle of wine, spend a couple of hours watching the flick, then discuss people's reactions to it. (I bought a DVD myself with this in mind, right after viewing the film.)
There's a lot of lessons about spirituality in "Dot."
Around the 30 minute mark, Dot speaks about a commitment to Zen practice which was one of the reasons she moved from a home in the Ashland countryside to the city itself -- so she could be closer to the town's Zen center.
"Discipline," her Zen teacher told her, "makes you strong." His analogy was that discipline was like putting a snake in a bamboo tube.
One of my favorite parts of the film shows Dot bowing respectfully before a singing bowl on the floor of her home, while some other women look on. She strikes the bowl, eliciting a pure Zen'ish tone. She bows traditionally again.
She yells, "blow it all to hell" while waving her arms. The women laugh. "Come out of the bamboo tube," Dot says. "The bamboo tube of discipline where everything is squirming... and, no, I hate it!...I don't want to do this discipline!"
(You've got to see the film to get the whole message of this scene; Dot's expressive body language speaks as loud as her words.)
Eventually Dot was made the head honcho of the Zen center's meditation hall, a duty she performed for two years. Her snake burst the bamboo tube, though, while on a trip to Tibet. Dot speaks of realizing there wasn't any more need for Zen practice.
She was hiking along at 17,000 feet. Followed by 18,000 feet. She was putting one foot after the other. She was there, doing what she was doing. What else was there to do? Thus ended her formal Zen practice.
Today George, a frequent visitor to this blog, left a comment on a recent post that posed some excellent questions.
Brian, on the issue of meditation, you've been doing it for quite a while. If you had never meditated for a day in your life, would it have made any difference to your understanding of:
1. the universe?
3. your peace of mind? or
4. any kind of unexplained experience including an awareness of lights, sounds, god, spirit, the tao, nonduality, oneness, or transcendental spheres of existence?
Yes. No. I don't know. Each of those answers sounds about right. George, here's a down payment on a response to what you asked.
Because "Dot" was being shown at a film festival, both Dot Fisher-Smith and the filmmaker, Patricia Somers, were in the theatre. They walked down in front of the screen after the applause ended and the lights came on.
I got to ask a question of Dot, who was as feistily/energetically engaging in person as in the film.
"Dot," I said (more or less), "it seems that after engaging in formal Zen practice for a while, you gave it up. I've meditated every day for most of my life, so I'm curious about whether you currently do any sort of organized meditation. Or is simply living life your meditation, being mindful of what is present at each moment?"
Dot told me that she'd been involved with Zen for about thirty years. And no, she doesn't feel any need now to meditate. Looking at me, she said "All there is... like this," pointing a finger in my direction.
Yeah, I got it. At least, I feel like I got it.
There Dot and I were, two people in a theatre filled with quite a few other people, having an interchange. We'd never met before; we may never meet again; but at that moment we were doing something together, and that's all that mattered.
No philosophy required. No religion required. No spiritual discipline required. No big Meaning of Life interpretation required.
Today I got up, made a pot of coffee, poured myself a cup, picked up the Oregonian sports page, and, per usual, went into my meditation area for some morning quiet time -- reading and meditating. For many years I meditated for several hours a day. Now, it's twenty minutes or so.
I don't feel that all that time I spent in closed-eyes contemplation was wasted, not at all. Yet I also don't feel that it gave me any great insights into the nature of the cosmos, or of myself. It just was something I did for about thirty years, about the same length of time Dot was into Zen.
I'm also coming to the realization that ordinary everyday life is -- duh -- what life is all about. Doesn't seem like something so obvious should take thirty-plus years to realize. Which is why I liked what Dot says near the end of the film so much.
"What is Buddha? In the Blue Cliff record, it's like... shit on a stick. So I can say that. Yeah, I'm the Buddha way. Life is one big mistake. And I'm doing that. I'm a mistaken Buddha, a Buddha who makes mistakes. Everybody makes mistakes. I'm human."
(Here's a newspaper story about Dot and the film.)