It felt a bit like a “nothing” week. Nothing seemed to have been completed. Nothing came back from emails, messages and calls. Nothing transpired from a months-long process to solidify a relationship. Nothing. -Ish.
We were invited to a meeting of “interesting people'' by a friendly neighbour.
“I know you will love them,” she exclaimed, “They are all a little different, and you, with your work, I think you will fit right in.”
Us, with our work, hey? A little different? We accepted and said “Yes!”
Over the course of the days running up to the event we were reminded that “Tobie” was going to demonstrate some Tai Chi and talk about his journey to Zen. Okay, this was sounding pretty interesting.
Sandton by night. Reminiscent of Chicago
A meeting of minds
Our friendly neighbours picked us up and we tootled off to Sandton. The hosts live on the eighth floor of a snazzy apartment block originally intended to be a hotel. COVID! Once we had manoeuvred our way through multiple layers of security we squeezed into the tiny lift, told it where to go and were soundlessly delivered to our designated floor. We waited, getting ever so slightly panicked (it was a very small space), until our host flung open the heavy metal door, mirthful and welcoming. We fell into a space full of people chatting and nibbling and drinking.
Matthew scoured the environment for a stairwell. Just in case. The lift had done nothing for his sense of claustrophobia and alertness to disaster. We walked out onto the tiny balcony and looked across the Sandton night. It felt a bit like a miniature Chicago, with its scent of organised crime, just no lake and no waterways and no Bean.
The last vestiges of Jacaranda blossoms carpeting everywhere
A dappled group
We were introduced to the dappled group, sucking on grapes and sipping wine around the table. Then to the L-shaped couch where Kumaran said, “Call me KC, if you can’t say my name.”
“Who can’t pronounce Kumaran?” Chantal asked, wondering what it was about those who find it difficult or tedious to pronounce names different to theirs.
Finally Tobie. “Oh it’s Tobie Cronje,” whispered Matthew, “I was expecting a Toby.” He smiled up at the kind face with the distinctive jaw, at the top of the oh-so recognisable beanpole frame.
A sun halo, formed by ice crystals refracting light, gleamed and glowed above in the week
That comedic character
For those old enough to remember when television was first introduced into this country in the late ‘70’s Tobie Cronje was a regular comedic actor in many Afrikaans programmes. At 74 years of age he still acts and he does Tai Chi, has done so for the last 30 years, and has an enduring interest in Zen. Who would have thought?
It was an eclectic bunch who gathered round to listen to Tobie’s story. He shared favourite anecdotes and koans* from a number of books, brought along especially for the occasion. (*We’ve shared an example of a well known koan below).
Once the rains come, Johannesburg is transformed from dustbowl to lush paradise
Moving and engaging
Some braver souls tried out a Tai Chi form or two. They waded through invisible water, held invisible balls, breathed deep into their bellies and stood, wobbling, on one leg. It all looks so elegant and graceful until you try it yourself. The white crane flashing its wings quickly becomes the distressed hadeda collapsing on his beak! Caaaah!
It was a sparkling evening of interesting conversations with a robustly diverse group of people who were curious and attentive. We felt at home with this open, warm non-judgmental group and wanted to come to the next meeting.
You never can tell who you are going to encounter, or what they really are all about, even if you think you do. You really never can judge a book by its cover.
Until next time.
Yours in feeling,
Chantal & Matthew
What is a koan?
Here’s a great explanation of a koan taken from Brian Rock’s lovely book on the subject called: I Scream Koans: The Secret Zen Wisdom of Children's Literature.
A koan is a traditional Zen Buddhist technique to stimulate awareness beyond thinking. It’s designed to be a paradox, a riddle without an answer. It is designed to point out the limits of logical thinking, and thereby lead to enlightenment.
The most famous example is, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?”
Your first instinct is to think it doesn’t make a sound at all. But what if silence is the answer? How do we still our mind to achieve that level of silence? But clapping is a way of getting attention or showing approval. So, what is the one had clapping for? Are we trying to get our own attention? And on and on the questions pile up.
Here’s an example of a famous koan (source unknown) called A Cup of Tea.
Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868–1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen.
Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring.
The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!”
“Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”
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