A Panda, A Kid And A Meditation
*This is a story my mom wrote for her grandson (my nephew). The illustration is by me, Tara Dickinson, Nirvana Mama.
Maverick and Stillwater
“Another rainy Sunday,” thought Maverick, “what bad luck.”
His cat Nicole pranced into the room at that moment with a plastic cap in her mouth and dropped it on the floor in front of Maverick. He was in such a black mood he didn’t want to play with her or to change into a cat. He just picked up that cap and threw it out into the hall where Nicole entertained herself playing one-cat-soccer.
Maverick flopped on his bed. “I might as well get my homework done,” he said as he pulled a book over. Maverick had to read a book each week as well as doing math and science and social studies and spelling homework. Maverick had lots of homework.
The book he pulled over was “Zen Shorts,” by Jon J. Muth. It was about a talking panda bear named Stillwater who came to visit three children—Michael, Abby, and Karl. He told a story to each one. Maverick enjoyed Michael’s story so much he didn’t continue reading, but read it again.
Maverick was much taken with the story about the farmer. He thought and thought about it. He closed his eyes, and thought about the story even more, how he’s like to talk to a panda bear, what the bear’s voice would sound like, what his fur would feel like.
When Maverick at last opened his eyes he had slipped into the colorful pages of the book and was sitting on the ground next to Michael and Stillwater.
Neither one was the least bit surprised to suddenly see Maverick sitting next to them; after all, they lived in storyland where pandas could talk and carried umbrellas. But Maverick was shocked from the tips of his toenails to the hair on his head. He’d never fallen into a book before, though he was an avid reader.
Maverick introduced himself and then said, “Your story about the farmer and luck made me think and think. The more I thought, the more there seemed to be to think about in the story.”
Stillwater smiled. “The farmer’s story is very old, several thousand years old. It has its roots in Taoism, a form of Buddhism.”
“The book is called ‘Zen Shorts.’ Is that a form of Buddhism too?” Maverick asked.
Stillwater smiled at Maverick. “Exactly. Zen is a Japanese word that simply means meditation. ‘Zen Shorts’ are short meditations.”
“I know,” said Michael. “They are ideas to puzzle over.”
“Precisely!” replied Stillwater. “The short meditations are tools for you to use to hone your ability to act with intuition. They have no goal, but they often challenge us to reexamine our habits, desires, concepts, and fears.”
“My mom says my brain is like a muscle. If I exercise it, it grows stronger and becomes able to handle bigger challenges,” said Maverick.
“Tell us more about Zen,” chimed Michael.
Stillwater closed his eyes a moment and appeared in deep thought. When he opened his eyes he smiled at the boys. “In Zen, the teachings of the Buddha have always been passed down from teacher to student, like we are doing today.”
“Did the Buddha meditate?” Maverick asked.
“Oh yes,” Stillwater replied. “All the great spiritual teachers meditate. It is in silence the universe reveals itself. The Buddha’s method of meditation was to sit very still, yet remain completely alert, allowing first one thought and then another to rise and pass away, holding on to none of them.”
“Was I doing that just before I came here?” Maverick asked.
“Indeed you were,” Stillwater answered.
Michael said, “I’ve been wondering about your name Stillwater. What does it mean?”
The panda smiled again. The boys’ questions pleased him mightily. “When you look into a pool of water, if the water is still, you can see the moon reflected. If the water is agitated, the moon is fragmented and scattered. It is harder to see the true moon. Our minds are like that. When our minds are agitated, we cannot see the true world.”
“I have to go soon,” Maverick said. “Would you tell us one more story before I go?”
“I’ll tell you about ‘Uncle Ry and the Moon.’ It is another ancient story. This one’s from Buddhist literature. You can think about it at home tonight.”