Saturday, June 23, 2012

 See the fowls of the air: they sow not, neither do they reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much better than they?
(Mathhew 6:26)

Like one in water crying I thirst
(Hakuin; Chant in Praise ofZazen)

There’s a leak in the roof and a crack in the foundation.  You’re single and alone with no money and two kids to feed.  You have no idea what you’re going to do.  It’s a disaster and you just want to die.

There are two things I’ve found helpful in these kinds of situations.  

The first is to expect that things will get worse before they get better.  I am not sure why this is but, when you expect that things can’t possibly get any worse, they usually do.  It’s a bit like when you’re in a heat wave and the forecast keeps promising thunderstorms to break the oppressive humidity but the rain never comes and the air just keeps getting heavier and heavier.  As the days go by, you learn a precious lesson.  You learn that you can take the heat.

The second thing I find helpful is to stop and ask:  What is really lacking in this situation? What is it I really want?  Usually the answer is an escape of some kind.  When you stop and ask this question, you stop running- from your problems, discomfort or struggle, whatever it is- and relax.  Even if only for a moment, you are right there.  You may not escape your problems like this but you may find that you can be content, even amused, in the midst of Life’s bottomless pit of opportunities.

They say that faith is an unconditional openness to what is, not a rational decision based on fact or reason.   But faith does not fall from the sky either.  You need to give it room, to lift your eyes and glimpse into what is endlessly beyond each experience at any given moment.  It is always right there.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

 It’s not hard to find the truth.  What’s hard is not running away from it once you’ve found it.
~ anonymous


“This is not a social occasion!” barked the old man as he gripped his nyoi*.  I had just fumbled through the ritual of closing the door and bowing to him while nearly decapitating his cat.  The cat had wanted to come into the room and I was not sure if this was Zen protocol so I hesitated before I firmly shut the door, nearly taking his poor head off. 

This was the first time I had ever entered dokusan and I was nervous to meet the teacher.  I wanted him to help me with my practice but was told that I must don the robes and bow to him before seeking his counsel.  I complied out of necessity.  When my new teacher mistook my embarrassed smile for an attempt to recover social decorum, I felt deeply humiliated.  I just wanted to get on with the interview and get enlightened.  If this Zen moment had been fashioned into a social occasion it was hardly by me…

When spiritual practice gets formalized into ritual observance, rules and roles take over and, before you know it, you’re trapped in a "social occasion" by virtue of the simple fact that, in your quest for enlightenment, you agreed to pose as a student before a teacher. 

The artifice of the Zen encounter evokes social dis-ease in every honest student.  The cure lies in dissolving the Zen situation entirely.  This is the double bind of Zen practice.  In order to do more than just go through the motions of practice, in order to transcend the "social occasion" of Zen, you must free yourself of this duality and constraint, and simply become yourself.
*a Zen master’s teaching stick