On Being a Zen Retriever

Sunday, February 7, 2021
Glendale, CA

On Being a Zen Retriever

Have you ever noticed, as I do, how much of the day you spend, well, taking things out and putting them away?

When I write, usually in my small backyard, I retrieve a laptop, notebook, a few pens, and some files.

When I wake up, I retrieve coffee grounds, heat up water, grab the french press, and put a few pieces of bread in the toaster.

When I garden, I retrieve gloves, a spade, left-over bags of soil, and whatever new plant I’ve bought, or whatever old one I’m moving.

When I head to my office, I retrieve my appointment book, mobile phone, reading glasses, sun glasses, and left-over food to eat during breaks.

When I teach at Rose City Center on Fridays at 11a, I retrieve the article-of-the-week, again a notebook and pen, usually my laptop, and then find the Zoom link to connect to the students.

When I take in one of the few patients who consult me in person, I retrieve my face mask, a sanitary wipe (for opening doors), a coffee cup, and then I open up a window and turn on the fan.

When I prepare for bed, I retrieve my hypertension medication, ingest it, and then retrieve toothpaste, toothbrush, mouth wash, and soap (to wash my face).

You get the idea.

How much time do we all spend each and every day RETRIEVING things?

Isn’t it maddening?

If you added up the time you spend retrieving, and then replacing, you’re probably looking at, say, perhaps two- or even three-hours a day.

Recovering from my nearly six decades of maniacal, anxiety-ridden, Type-A behavior, I still find myself feeling rushed when retrieving.

More than once, my wife has quipped:

He gardens like a man going to war.

It is pathetically true.

To further my recovery, and since much of talking or writing is really just to oneself (out loud), I offer a few words of advice which, I hope, I shall heed myself:

  1. Bring your full attention to your existence as a type of dog, naturally a retriever, and surrender to it.
  2. Attend to the experiences themselves, i.e. how it feels to put the laptop in a briefcase, or the spade in your hand, or the medications in your mouth.
  3. Observe yourself rushing, if you feel as I do, and chill out by following ideas 1 and 2.
  4. Remember to breathe! I often find myself holding my breath while doing these retriever and replacement actions.
  5. Surrender to the reality that, oh well, a good chunk of your day mimics the behavior of a hound dog.
  6. Consider practicing meditation, or even doing a one- or multiple-day Zen retreat. As it turns out, retrieval is a minimal part of those experiences. Years ago, I did several one-day retreats in which, as I recall, I retrieved NOTHING. Perhaps, I passed a tray of vegetables and rice around during the silent lunch period. That was it. (But, then again, I needed to retrieve my meditation pillow, my car keys, clothing, etc, to go there).
  7. CRUCIAL: Vary your routine as you perform your retriever-like tasks. If you always start breakfast with toast, switch it out. Or, do the toast before the coffee. This is an old Zen idea. They literally recommend taking a different route to work every day to keep the experience fresh and bring you in the moment.
  8. Despite idea 6, forget about any possibility of really avoiding retriever-like behavior. You can’t. No matter how minimalist a lifestyle you desire, you’ll still retrieve. If you move into a 200 square foot storage container, you’ve still got to cook, make your bed (hopefully), get the mail, pay your bills, etc.

That’s it.

On this lovely Sunday in Southern California, I had the delusional belief that retrieval might, just perhaps maybe, be minimal

I was wrong.

So far, I’ve retrieved binoculars, juice-glass, tea-mug, notebook, laptop, cell phone, files, books, a few pens, and, lucky-me, a small cigar (which then required me to retrieve a lighter, lighter fluid, an ash tray and more).


Surrender to the Tao!

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