Zen and the Art of Anti-Cancer Maintenance

About thirty-five years ago, I got into Zen in a big way. Some people thought I was silly; some people thought I was a remarkably late bloomer. Maybe I was both but that didn’t bother me. It happened at the right time––chance favours the prepared mind (the definition of serendipity). Keep your mind prepared and you will find that you come upon the exact instrument/technique/ice cream you need at the exact moment you need it.

I absorbed Zen on a deep level, so much so that more often than not, I follow the principles without even realising it. Zen is, basically, knowing what to do––or knowing that there’s nothing you can do, and not only being able to identify which is which, but also not lying to yourself about which one you are faced with. If that reminds some readers of the Serenity Prayer, I’m not surprised. What I like about Zen is that it identifies the principle involved in the Serenity Prayer, and then leaves it up to you as to whether a deity is involved.

Personally, I’m not a believer…but that doesn’t mean I’m a total disbeliever, either. The more I learn about science––and I’ve been studying hard lately as research for this novel I’m writing––the more in awe I am of the universe. If I did believe in a deity, I would think that learning as much as possible about the natural world––from quarks to the microwave afterglow of the Big Bang to gravity waves––would be the best kind of prayer. But I’m starting to digress. I hit a section of the novel where things got very mystical in a hard-science way. Don’t ask me, I just think here.

But I was talking about Zen. Not long after I embraced it, a friend told me––with no disrespect––that she didn’t think of me as a Zen person. But her impression of a Zen person was someone who cruised through life with an attitude of ‘It’s all good’ (I’m paraphrasing). This is similar to the mistaken impression some people have of antidepressants––i.e., that they’ll level you out so you emotionally flatline and go around with a vague smile on your face, no matter what happens Neither is true. (I’ll get into the matter of antidepressants another time; I’ve been taking them for over twenty years and I promise you, they are not ‘happy pills.’) 

As for Zen: if you have ever seen the movie The Deer-Hunter, it has one of the most Zen moments I’ve ever seen in a film. It comes unexpectedly, early on, after the big wedding, when all the other guys decide to go hunting. John Cazale’s character hasn’t brought boots, which apparently is typical behaviour for him, and he wants to borrow a pair from someone else. Robert DeNiro’s character is fed up with him and doesn’t want to give him any. He takes a bullet and, holding it up, says, ‘Do you see this? This is this––this is not something else, this is this.‘ I think that’s an amazing moment. And then Christopher Walken, in the sudden role of Buddha, gives John Cazale’s character a pair of boots and says to DeNiro, ‘What’s the matter with you?’ (Actually, he says, ‘Whatsamatter wichoo?’ Which is how that particular question is pronounced in the northeastern/mid-Atlantic area of the US) The question is basically an even more emphatic ‘This is this, this is not something else’ lesson for DeNiro––i.e., ‘This is what he does; accept it or don’t come with us.’ 

Yeah, I know: that’s probably not what Michael Cimino was intending. But that’s what I saw. Cimino would probably think I was nuts but what he doesn’t know won’t hurt him.

So what does this have to do with Zen and the Art of Anti-Cancer Maintenance? Well, that’s the title on the post, isn’t it? It’s all anti-cancer here all the time. But in fact, someone left the photo below on my Facebook page, and I wrote a koan to go with it. This is all just my excuse to post both photo and koan here.


A student said to the Buddha, “Master, how may I gain enlightenment?’

The Buddha said, ‘Wait.’

The student waited all day. Finally he fell asleep. During the night, a kitteh crawled onto his lap and went to sleep.

In the morning, the student awoke and found the kitteh sleeping on his lap. Immediately he was enlightened.


13 thoughts on “Zen and the Art of Anti-Cancer Maintenance

  1. Gassho. Good words, as always. Great picture. I love the way the Buddha’s cloak edge above the kitteh’s head looks like the cat’s dream. Love your koan too.

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