• Emma Palmer

Zazen-ing: the wall vent and the last breath

Updated: Aug 8, 2019



The light falling on the wall vent Highlighting eight smooth, curved, lips most pleasingly. Look at those shades of gold! The tips of my fingers cupped in my lap thumbs lightly toughing imagine stroking the surface. Would I feel a gentle draft through the vents? Are those screws, placed so neatly in each corner, slots or Phillips? They look like Phillips, although I’m straining my eyes a bit to see, so I’m not entirely sure.

Five fascinating minutes later and I’m marvelling at my capacity for fascination. Imagine being fascinated by an air vent… It’s a gift! It’s a skill! Nothing wrong with it. I pause. …........... Knowing the marvelling is itself becoming the next thread of fascination. Fascination, boredom, me me me.

Breathe in, breathe out. Seat bones on cushion. Numb left leg. Lifting and tenderly un-scrunching my sacrum. Poise. ‘Hello wall vent!’ The wall is more alive than this morning. Shall I zazen (it’s feeling like its own verb) or shall I fascinate?

I breathe burrowing further in – here you are, here I am. Am I? – and we are by my father’s hospital bedside. His breaths are running out. I only know that now - didn’t know it then. His breath is slowing, that’s for sure. My breath slows remembering his slowing breath. A laboured, slowing, great machine winding down for the last time- its work now done. Long, slow outbreath. Timeless pause. We wait, holding our breaths. No in breath. ‘He’s dead’. Of course, he’s been so poorly. He’s been dying for weeks, Characteristically un-dramatically, being quietly

though you can see the great strain, looking more closely. Then a screeching. It’s so loud in my heart I’m surprised it doesn’t make my family jump out of their skins– it momentarily jumps me out of my skin. ‘Noooooooooooooooooo’. The scream of Not This. Not Now. ‘He’s dead’. The world ends, just for a moment.

Here I am. Am I? Air vent. Breathe in, breathe out. Fascination has refreshingly passed. Remembering my Dad’s last breath Sobering now, not tormenting. The world is still here, same, same, but different.

Breathe in, breathe out, sitting still, tiny movements. The ordinary everydayness of sitting.

Breathe in, breathe out. Boredom, bliss. The disquiet and fear of sitting here, too – present moment, moment, moment, moment, moment.

Even the breath is scary! No it’s not, stupid, it’s just breathing (‘what’s all the fuss about?’) Nothing doing, fascination, death, yawn, dozing, bored, bliss. Earl grey or rooibos? All of life, all of death, all of life, all of death. No wonder zazen is so unpopular - nothing happens.


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