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Saturday, June 18, 2011


I stood outside a back room. Hands folded over my stomach.

The door opened. I stepped inside next to another student, we both did a full bow to an altar. It was basically a small table with a vase of flowers. We placed our foreheads to the carpet, raised our hands near our ears, palms up. The silence made the awkwardness palpable. Clothes rustling. Breath slightly labored standing up.

At that moment, I was having a thought. This is stupid.

The student left. I turned to face an elderly woman sitting on a meditation bench. Her hair short and void of color. She wore big round glasses that old people often wear. I started to do a full bow to her and she stopped me. "No, no," she said. "Not to me."

I didn't know what I was doing. So I did a short standing bow to her, more of a respectful greeting, then seated myself on the floor in front of her. I opened my mouth to say my name. She beat me to it.

"Hi, Tony."

There is a power in the universe, some say, that is immense. Obi-wan Kenobi called it the Force. Zen teachers call it joriki. Whatever it's called, it was in that room. It filled it. Blew through me like an exploding star. It had texture. Luminescence.

I came to the San Diego Zen Center when I was 23  years old with no expectations. If I had any, I still wouldn't have seen that moment coming.

I don't remember what Joko and I talked about. I remember smiling, a lot.

When she rang the little bell at her side and I let the next student in, doing full bows to the table/altar of flowers, I remember knowing something. I remember knowing, at the moment, that there is light in the world.

Charlotte Joko Beck died this week. It was June 15. She was 94 years old. I don't think she would remember me since she worked with so many people. But I'll say it anyway.

Thank you, Joko.

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