The Old Lady From Calgary – Book Excerpt

The early fall evening was warm and the lower forests of the Bow Valley still yellow, as I drove the winding road up to Dr. Kim’s house for meditation class on Cougar Creek Crescent in Canmore.  I was still excited about meditation class at Dr. Kim’s, despite the fact that it was painful to sit for over an hour in the zazen meditation pose. I was the only one in our class that could do the full lotus (one foot on one thigh and the other on the other thigh). The antidote for leg pain was to focus on my breathing and that was coming along nicely, as I continued the search for my ‘driver,’ my ‘ox,’ my self.

“Jinyeo,” Dr. Kim said to me cheerily as he welcomed me at the front door.  His cheerful side was always a bit of a shock to me, as his fierce side was something that I feared deeply beneath the surface.

“Jinyeo,” I said enthusiastically in return.  ‘Jinyeo’ was a Korean word that meant ‘whole.’  Our martial arts practice, which included the combat practice and meditation classes was called, ‘Jinyeo-Moo,’ which meant, ‘whole-nothing.’

I took off my shoes and made my way to the upstairs living room, a room he and his wife had converted into a large shrine to the Buddha.  It includes a large statue of the Buddha, several tapestries with Zen calligraphy on them, large bowls filled with sand for offertory candles, and round serving platters stacked with oranges and other fruits in offering to the Boddisatvas, or, as Dr. Kim called them “The High Spirituals.”   I took the latter to mean Buddhists saints in Heaven.

As I came up the stairs and around the corner, I saw, sitting cross-legged on the floor, was an elder Korean woman, about 65 years-old.  She had a very soft round face and was dressed in a grey monk’s robe, much in the same style as Dr. Kim’s meditation coat.  She looked up at me and smiled a most gentle and joyful smile, with lovely white teeth, immediately giving me the impression that she was a saintly grandmother.   I gave her a bow and said, “Jinyeo” to her.  She nodded in return, smiling again, but not saying a word to me.

Within 10 minutes, the others arrived, each of them going through the same smiling and bowing with the old woman as I had.  Dr. Kim stood up and welcomed us to our class.  He was particularly excited to introduce “The Old Lady” who had come to Canmore from Calgary to pray and meditate at Dr. Kim’s shrine and hall.  That was all I knew about her.   After doing some chanting and bowing in front of the shrine, we filed down to the meditation hall for sitting practice.

Downstairs on the main floor, the meditation hall was a large, ground floor room, about 12×16 feet, carpeted but empty.  Dr. Kim sat on a dias about 4ft x 4ft., from which he conducted the meditation class.  I took my place on the far right of the hall, in front of the picture window that looks out onto the street.  In the future, I would not sit there again, as the sound of cars coming down the street, their whir of tires coming from right to left in front of me, caused me to be distracted.

The eight of us, including The Old Lady, sat looking toward the walls, while Dr. Kim sat on the dias looking into the centre of the hall and towards my back.  Dr. Kim reminded us to focus on our koan, “Your body is a car going to Heaven; who is driving your car?  Who is your driver. Watch your breathing.”  Then with a shout of “Aye,” and a slap the juppe stick, our meditation class began.

At first, it took a good long while to find my centre of breathing.  Lately, I had felt this powerful tension building in my legs and flowing up into my back and chest that finally made my body tremble, until I was able to get it under control, a process that usually took a minute.  At this stage of my practice, I looked out about a metre in front of me, to the edge of where the carpet met the baseboard of the interior wall.   “Who is my driver? What is my driver?” I repeated to myself over and over again. Sometimes the knitted designs in the off-white coloured carpet would swirl and blur to my eyes and at other times I would feel myself detaching from my body.  This never lasted long, because the inevitable arrival of pain in my legs, or back, or shoulders, that would cause me to become immediately aware of my spasming muscles.

To my surprise, the sound of the juppe stick signalled the end of our meditation class and Dr. Kim invited us to turn around for a talk on the Dharma.  But instead of a talk, Dr. Kim explained that The Old Lady from Calgary had spiritual power and could, as he said, “Read your energy.”

One by one, a student would lay down on his back the floor in front of the old lady, and she would begin chanting in Korean and waving her hands up and down the body of the student.  After a minute or so of this strange practice, she turned to Dr. Kim, who was sitting on the other side of the student, and would speak to him about the person lying there between them.  It all seemed strange and mystical to me, as I’d never seen anything like it before, but the conversation between the two of them seemed intense and real, Dr. Kim nodding his head in acknowledgement and adding “mmmhhmms” of understanding.

When it was my turn, I got up, walked over to them in my bare feet, and lay down between them.  With eyes wide open, I watched her chant and wave her hands slowly over my body for what seemed like a longer time than any of the other students had.  When it was time for her to talk with Dr. Kim, she went on for much longer than with the other students, pointing to me lying there and pointing back to Dr. Kim.  I did not have any idea of what she was saying, but I slowly became alarmed at the intensity of the dialogue, as Dr. Kim seemed very serious about what he was hearing; his head nodding and responses to her words intoned a serious message about me!

When all was done, and we had all been prayed over, we returned to meditation for a short while and then class ended.  We all thanked The Old Lady and she smiled back at us with her gentle grandmotherly spirit, a spirit which betrayed he interior strength and power.  As I thanked Dr. Kim for holding the meditation class and was about to go out the door, he looked at me and said, “Do Chun, the Old Lady has an important message for you and we will talk about this later.”

“Okay, Dr. Kim.  Thank you,” I replied.  I drove home in a strong spirit of confusion, wondering what the hell she said about me.

Categories Uncategorized | Tags: | Posted on December 1, 2016

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