Oh, to be clipclopping along on the back of an Ox . . .

Lately I have been remembering a good slow walk I took with Thich Nhat Hahn and a large bunch of friends, known and unknown, in an Oakland park in 2000. It was the kind of walk that was beautiful, strange and otherworldly in so many ways. With all that company just as ordinary, and just as weird (or even weirder) than you looked or felt, walking as if for the first time, any sense of cringey self-consciousness was cancelled out. There we were: open, intentional, attending, grateful.

That walk has been on my mind because a couple of weeks ago, as a result of a misstep, my knee caps have become partially (and temporarily, pleasegod!) untrammelled. I have been decelerated and now walk with an ungainly hobble or an oozingly slow gait. I take great pleasure in the monk-shuffle-one-small-step-for-humankind type of walking when I have committed to a slow walk but my ordinary velocity from place to place is rapid. To me, walking is medicine. St Francis de Sales said “Half an hour’s meditation is essential except when you are very busy. Then a full hour is needed.” Replace the word ‘meditation’ with ‘walk’ and you get the picture. (Though as walkers will tell you, walking itself often is a meditation . . . even when you don’t do it in a formalised manner)

Serendipitously I came across Mags Blackie’s recent pensees on questions of freedom and was especially (and perhaps obviously) struck by one on Interior Freedom [see posts on May 14, 19, 23]. In her series of reflections she raises questions about fears and insecurities, how one appears to others, one’s engagement with the Idealised Self and the degree of transparency one is able to bench press. How apposite as I make reluctant acquaintance with Limitation.

Mulling over this notion of Interior Freedom I was reminded of one of my favourite stories from the Buddhist tradition that comes in handy with any and all kinds of problem solving: the parable of the OxHerder. It is a story about being human. At the moment, I’d be grateful to hitch a ride on the Ox – making peace with the condition in which I find myself – but truthfully, I estimate myself to be around the 4th stage.  The Ox & I have to go a few rounds yet before I return to the marketplace utterly transformed and completely – blessedly – ordinary.

Parable of the OxHerder



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