‘My name is Quingshui, I am alone and destitute, please give me alms.’ The teacher replied, “Venerable Shui!” Quingshui replied, “Yes!” The teacher said, “You have drunk three cups of the finest wine in China, yet you complain your lips are not moist.”

This koan about Quingshui alone and destitute reminded me of an experience a friend had during a long retreat not so long ago. A Bobby Vinton song, “Mr. Lonely” had become an ear bug from the beginning of the retreat, particularly the refrain of “I’m so lonely”. He was curious about it until he was annoyed about it. After sitting with his annoyance for some time, he came in for a conversation and talked about his annoyance with this ear bug. As he was explaining it, repeating the refrain over and over again so as to convey what it was like for him, he started to really get into repeating the phrase, until he was actually singing it and then laughing hysterically as he repeated, “I’m so lonely!!!” over and over again at the top of his lungs, between laughter and tears.For change to happen there has to be an awareness of the need to change. My friend really wasn’t in touch with just how lonely he was until that moment during that retreat. Deeply experiencing his loneliness, realizing that it was his loneliness, not someone else’s, he was freed from it. Not that it went anywhere, just as a prison cell remains there when we walk out of it, it remains there for us to walk back in. Paying attention to what is arising in the moment, noticing the way we  create difficulty for ourselves is a necessary first step.

Quingshui took that step when said he was alone and destitute, but there’s a couple more steps to be taken.


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