A Hundred Gourds 4:1 December 2014

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Ray Rasmussen – Canada

Coping with the Inevitable – My Way

“Meditation on inevitable death should be performed daily. . . . If . . . one is able to live as though his body were already dead, he gains freedom in the Way.” ~ Yamamoto Tsunetomo, “Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai.”

I have only a vague idea what Tsuentomo and other mystics mean by “the Way.” I guess it's a sort of restful mental state but not one I’ve experienced.

Throughout my younger years, I had been psychologically immortal, never thinking about death. And in most of my adult life mortality issues rarely came to mind. When my father died in his mid 80s and mother in her mid 90s, it simply seemed as if their time had come, not that my time would ever come.

Now, long in tooth, my meditation is done without conscious consent, my mind paying attention to a variety of reminders: the image in the mirror each morning as I shave and comb what little hair is left (is that me?); reading about the death of an eminent citizen (he’s younger than me! ); consuming history books, those lengthy horror stories of human-inflicted suffering and death and the black plague (Did I set the mouse traps tonight? ); reading the equally horrific daily news about this or that disaster (Maybe I won’t fly to Bermuda); learning about a friend’s fall into infirmity (Aaaaargh!).

Still what’s to lose by giving Tsuentomo’s way a try? I’ve settled on three meditations:

Meditation A: My doctor who instructs me to drop my pants and bend over the examination table. He’s snapped on a rubber glove and after prodding about in unmentionable places exclaims: “Ah Hah!!!” I’m shunted off to another table where a device with six needles further invades my body for samples of the “Ah Hah” problem. Minutes later, he tells me that the tests reveal that I have but an hour to live. Certain events flash before my eyes including every visit I’ve made to doctors and line ups in grocery stores and banks. Thanks to Tsuentomo, I’ve switched to on-line banking and I plan to never again visit a doctor.

Meditation B: I’m a rower in slave ship, my oar a giant pen. I’m trying to write haibun on the water while rowing and being whipped by a one-eyed ogre wearing a black mask. I break the chains (one can do this in a meditation), jump overboard and allow myself to sink to the bottom of the sea. On the way down, each haibun I’ve had published or rejected comes to mind. I die very slowly of boredom. When I come out of the meditation I realize that it's me wearing the black mask and I’ve decided not to take writing so seriously and to send a poison pen letter to certain editors.

Meditation C: I enter the confessional and see the dour countenance of the priest who used to ask me questions like “Have you touched yourself this week?” But this time, noting my age, he asks, “Have you prepared for your death?” “Yes father,” I say, gesturing to my suitcase. “Bless you my son,” he replies, “your sins are forgiven.” I leave the church absentmindedly, and don’t notice the school bus which runs me down. Then I’m a blob of road kill at the pearly gate and the deity says: “Good thing you brought that suitcase full of viagra, you’re going to need it.” Just past the gate is every woman I’ve lusted after, dressed in transparent silks and belly dancing. After several weeks, I approach the deity and tell him that I had withheld several mortal sins and deserve to spend the rest of my time in the other place. “Thanks for the laugh,” the deity says, “you’re already in the other place.”

I’d not claim that these practices have gotten me to ‘the Way’ that Tsunetomo had in mind, so I’ve signed up for a meditation class.

first class
I focus on
the blonde’s navel

taped over
the bathroom mirror
a Tom Cruise poster

in the darkness
of my closet
– a suitcase full of viagra


Quote from Yamamoto Tsunetomo, Hagakure, The Book of the Samurai, Translated by William Scott Wilson, Kondansha International Ltd., 1979, ISBN 4-7700-1106-7

At the end

of a weathered dock, dog snuggled in, Jen’s feet dangle above the water. Is she simply enjoying the reflection of clouds and mountains? I want to tell her she needn’t be alone, that there are better men than the one she’s left, that I’m such a man. Me, with two divorces.

rain clouds
dragonflies mating
on a reed tip


This is an ekphrastic haibun based on an award winning image: jasperphotography

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