Darlene Cohen

‘Up there with our favorite drugs and distractions from facing the terror of loneliness and existential emptiness is our current national pastime, “busyness.” People brag to each other about how busy they are, with the clear implication that they are valued and indispensable to the unending projects that fill their waking hours. But should a little slit appear in the cloth of their densely woven consciousness, allowing an open space to appear, then there’s a stab of panic. If the slit is not immediately repaired, filled up with thoughts and opinions, it threatens to become a gaping hole through which we would see – we know not what! But the menace of self-annihilation is definitely nearby. Few of us stay with this image long enough to feel the panic fully; most of us veer off to the next thing. But, in fact, those of us who suspect that this encounter with nothingness heralds the obliteration of our personal self by existential emptiness (the absence of thought or purpose) are right. That’s exactly what happens. It’s just that the actual experience of losing track of one’s self is not what it looks like before it actually happens. It’s kind of like jumping out of an airplane. The thought of it is terrifying, but people who parachute-jump for pleasure describe the tremendous exhilaration they experience when making the leap. They let go of the fear of jumping while they’re in the doorway of the plane. A split second later, they are grinning broadly, tumbling into a free fall of ecstatic enjoyment.’ (The One Who is not Busy)

Darlene was still a force of nature when I started practising at Zen Center, and I can hear her voice reading these words. Her inspirational practice is very much missed by those who knew her, and I know her disciples are upholding her lineage and her courageous way.

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