Dancing Zazen

One day Elder Tetsu asked: “When I am quietly sitting in zazen and my thoughts are not scattered, my energy sinks and I become sleepy. What can I do about this?”

The Master said: “Urge yourself to get up and do dancing zazen.”

(p. 183 – P. 64 in Warrior of Zen)

Best to not even go there

My sitting practice each morning is proving most helpful to me, when I keep it short and sweet. I find that if I sit longer than 10-15 minutes, my energy becomes dull and complacent.

Sleepy, even.

Which is the opposite of what I seek to achieve.

I am back to “dancing zazen” — taking my sitting practice into my daily life… using the principles of observing my breath, remaining impassive in the face of turmoil, and not instantaneously reacting to what suddenly flies into view, in my daily activities

I work with many people who prize reactivity. They believe it is a virtue to spring into action at the first sign of danger or opportunity. They believe it is necessary for effectiveness and doing a good job.

I would say the exact opposite.

Reactivity exhausts you. It leaves no energy for pro-activity.

Reactivity puts the control and influence in the hands of the others who are acting upon you. It makes you the object of others’ wants and needs, rather than making you the master of your own path.

Prizing reactivity and elevating it to a virtue, is like prizing getting mugged in a back alley you have no business walking into at 2 a.m., and turning your cuts and bruises and broken bones like they are badges of honor.

They are no such thing. They are evidence that you weren’t using your head, that you were not using good judgment, and you don’t have the sense to take care of yourself.

Today I will be dancing zazen.

And keeping away from those proverbial dark back alleys of life.

 

 

 

Two routes

Someone recently asked — “How is that (seeking out teachers and reading the text of the Buddha himself) time and energy consuming, roundabout way?”

Here’s how:

On the left, there’s the route I prefer. On the right, there’s the seeking. I prefer the route on the left. The one on the right may ultimately lead back to realization, but there are a lot more steps involved.

two-routesI’m considering turning off comments on this blog as a whole, because it lends itself to the stuff on the right. That takes up a whole lot of time and attention, which I could be spending on my preferred path, which is shown on the left.

If people want to follow, that’s great. But all the chit-chat… seems ultimately distracting.

Unity can be overrated

 

 

If you’re the only one in the room who actually senses unity, and everyone else in the general vicinity is not only caught up in their ideas about being alone and lonely, but also deeply invested in proving to themselves and everyone that there is no unity, that they are alone, and that no one can possibly understand them, it can be a lonely business, this unity thing.

After that unexpectedly awake handful of moments, about 20 years ago, I went through a fairly long period of feeling more alone than I ever had before. I had this experience, this total immersion in ALL, and I wanted nothing more than to spread it around and share it with others.

But people can take things the wrong way. And they can think that your experience of unity simply means that you have no boundaries worth respecting.

Hm.

Needless to say, it was an interesting couple of years after that moment.

I continued to have those periods of intense bliss and total unity — usually in the morning while I was getting ready to go to work. And I carried it with me through the day.

And it was a strange disconnect, to be surrounded by people who seemed to want nothing more than to reinforce their perceptions of separation, division, alienation, and being anything but one.

What do you have to talk about, when everyone is so invested in proving to themselves and others, that you really have nothing in common?

 

 

Unexpectedly Awake

 

One morning about 20 years ago, I was standing in front of my bedroom closet, looking for what to wear to work.  I’d just gotten out of the shower, and I was trying to decide what to wear to work.

Nothing in my life was going the way I wanted it to, I was deeply dissatisfied with just about everything around me, and I couldn’t see a way out of any of it. Not immediately, anyway.

I had a job I didn’t like, doing work that didn’t suit me, at a company I resented. I wasn’t making nearly enough money to support my household, but the economy was unfavorable, and I didn’t feel I had the skills or the time or the energy to go out and find another job.

I didn’t like any of my clothing. It was all frumpy and boring and not very attractive. It didn’t suit me at all.

I didn’t like the apartment where I lived. It was cheaply constructed of flimsy materials, the refrigerator kept icing up, my landlord was a hard-ass, my neighbors were loud, and it was too small for my family.

I had money problems. I was deeply in debt, my credit rating was abysmal, I could never seem to get ahead, and the expenses just kept piling up. My partner and I had lost one of our beloved cats while living in that apartment, because we didn’t have the money to get her the necessary medical treatment when she needed it.

My marriage was under intense stress, too. My partner was usually angry with me, we were fairly estranged, and we couldn’t seem to overcome our differences. Many of our problems were related to money and social isolation, and those problems didn’t seem to be going away anytime soon.

Everything around me seemed to be falling to pieces. My car had nearly been repossessed, and it wasn’t even worth the $400 I paid the repo man to keep it from being towed away. We had nearly been evicted from this apartment for a check that bounced, and there was never enough money to do anything we wanted — or even needed — to do. My partner was not able to get adequate medical and dental care, and she had a lot of physical ailments that had been problematic for some time. I couldn’t see my way out of the mess we were in, and any kind of positive change seemed miles away. I was operating in a constant state of low-level desperation, just trying to keep a few steps ahead of what seemed like total disaster.

I meditated regularly, and I often did feel bliss when I was deep in my meditative state. It was the one refuge I had in the midst of all the craziness around me. But the real world with its aggravations was always waiting for me when I “got back.” Frankly, it often just pissed me off, and I regretted sitting at all.

By no means was I in a mental, emotional or spiritual space that prepared me for what happened that morning.

As I stared resentfully into my clothes closet, suddenly I was suffused with a Light and a Knowing that I cannot fully describe. In an instant, the dresses and shirts and pants hanging in front of me blurred and melted away, and I felt all the world around me blend into one continuous, uninterrupted whole. The heavens above seemed to open up, and I saw the dark and luminous universe filled with pinpoints of starlight cascade down towards me. I also felt myself opening up to it, melting into the celestial heavens above — and from above and below we merged as one. There was no “them,” there was no “me,” there was no separation, there was no differentiation. There was nothing but the Truth that I was One with All.

In an instant, everything was revealed as Right and in Divine Perfect Order. Everything was Whole. Everything was intimately meshed with All That Is, and I was smack-dab in the middle of it. There were no clothes on hangers in the closet in front of me, no fabrics, no shirts or pants or shoes. There was no job, no apartment, no schedule, no bedroom, no indoors, no outdoors. There was no separation, no differentiation, no distinction at that instant.

There was only Wholeness. Completeness. The Knowledge that All Is Well and Everything Is In Its Right and Proper Place.

At that moment, I knew — beyond a shadow of a doubt — I was ONE with All. I was One with my crappy, demeaning job, I was One with my unattractive wardrobe, I was One with my nearly-estranged partner, I was One with my rusty, dilapidated car, I was One with my run-down apartment. All was One. I wasn’t just right in the middle of it — IT simply WAS. And everything — without exception — was in Perfect Divine Order.

I froze for a few moments, transfixed by the realization. I said nothing. I had no words for what I was experiencing. I could not move. I could not speak. All I could do was simply stand there, staring at my clothes, feeling the expansiveness grow and swim within me. I felt my cells come to life, pulsing with light that unfolded to the stars… into the earth… melting and melding into the flowing vital essence that permeated everything in that room, all my atoms mixing and blending with the atoms of every created thing on this plane and all others. The universe in all its immensity expanded around me, then made itself known in my heart. In that moment, it felt as though years, even lifetimes, of blame and fault and error were wiped clean and made completely new. Everything that was or had ever been “wrong” in my life, no longer mattered. Not in the least.

It wasn’t the first time that sort of experience had ever happened to me — but it was the first time it had been that intense. It would also not be the last — though I haven’t yet had another experience of that magnitude.

For years after that, I would frequently get surges of bliss, first thing in the morning after I got out of the shower, while I was standing in front of my clothes closet, thinking about what to wear. It seems an unlikely time and circumstance to receive an incredible reminder of the truth about the my place in the universe would pulse through me, enlivening my cells and thrilling my entire being with an exhilaration that still to this day amazes me … but I’ll take it.

Nothing about my experience of life has been the same, since that moment. Now two decades past, it still seems like yesterday. My entire world view changed “in the twinkling of an eye,” as they say. I’ve tried to describe this experience many times in many pages of writing, but it hasn’t been easy — it’s difficult to describe in words something so experiential.

Words cannot do that experience justice.

Ever since that day, I sense no real separation between this person I call “myself” and others. I sense no division between religions or faiths. My life has since been marked by a combination of earthbound disorientation, divine indifference, lack of attachment, unconditional acceptance, intimately indescribable connection to All, moral weightlessness, peace that passeth understanding, and a sense of Love that is unparalleled by any human interaction I’ve ever had. It is both personal and impersonal, transmuting and transfiguring my life, yet wholly transcending it.

It has taken me many years to come to terms with it, to get past the isolation and frustration of watching others behave as though there were only separation, devoting their lives to conflict and self-serving, hurting themselves far more than they could ever hurt another. It’s not easy, walking into a room and getting the distinct impression that you’re the only one who realizes you know everyone who’s there — and you’re the only one who really wants to. Our world as we know it thrives on separation and artificial gravitas, judgment and games, and even those who profess to enlightenment invest an awful lot of time in dividing and conquering.

Knowing what I came to know in that moment — and many moments after that — sets you apart in ways that are all but impossible to describe with words. And yet, it joins you… incorporates you… involves you… implicates you… in every single aspect of life that you experience as Completely Wrong. When you become One with All, you truly become ONE with ALL.

And it’s taken decades for me to be able to put that into words. Even so, it doesn’t feel like I can.

In the end, though, after all the words fail, the experience defies describing, the separation and the unity blend into an impossible spaghetti ball of complement and contradition… all I really need to know is…

there is Love.

 

 

No Buddhists, only Buddha

The first Buddha whom modern Buddhism is based on was a regular human being. He searched and searched for the answers. Then he sat.

And he awoke.

My question is: If he was a normal human being, and he awoke by sitting, why do we think we need to do any differently?

And if he got where he was going — which is where so many of us want to go — by not searching, by not chasing, just by stopping and paying attention… why do we search and chase after what teachers promise to teach us, in hopes of getting what he got?

Why do we search and chase after what he said and did and taught?

At all?

If we human beings awake — truly awake — by cutting out interruptions and distractions and having regular direct contact with All That Is, why would we even bother with the teachers, the scriptures, the teachings, the dogmas, the discussions, the critiques… ?

If we awaken by listening to our own hearts… why ask another to tell us what is in our heart? Shouldn’t we develop that listening skill ourselves?

If we awaken by being present with What Is, right in front of us, here and now… why spend our too limited time looking for someone who will direct our attention to what that may be? Shouldn’t we get in the habit of getting real and just being honest with ourselves?

Why not just pay attention to what truly works, and what doesn’t, and then try again next time?

If we awaken by having direct contact with that which is around us… why would we for a moment spend what little precious time that we have, re-routing our attention away from our direct experience… over to a teacher… and then back to our experience?

We are so often deluded, that’s for sure. And we tend to need help, sorting things out.

But it seems to me that good energy, active direct experience, and a sincere willingness and diligence about awakening would be no less of a path than studying and following the teachings of other human beings who seem to think (or at least have been told) they’ve got it all sorted out.

The path of Living What Truly Is, without dogmas, without trappings, without theories, is just different from the established path.

But it’s still good.

The two-fold path

 

I’m sure plenty of other people have written, thought, talked, and meditated about this in the past, but it occurred to me the other day after a “sit”.

Essentially, I am on a two-fold path — the path of DOing, and the path of BEing.

The two paths do not diverge for me

Many other people have different definitions of “The two-fold path”. This is mine:

1. DOing – The path of being active and engaged in all the details of my life.

2. BEing – The path of knowing just who I am and what I am.

It’s been my experience that sitting and meditation are often associated with the BEing part of things.

We sit in order to realize the truth of our nature.

We sit in order to BEcome enlightened, awakened, or just less prone to suffering.

It seems a bit passive, and that’s not always helpful for me.

Reading Shosan, I am struck by the strong DOing aspect of his version of zen. Nio Zen. The zen of the fierce guardians, the protectors, the DO-ers at the temple gates, who vanquish evil spirits.

He exhorts his students — everyone, really — to cultivate their ki, to have buoyant spirits, and to approach their practice with a vengeful spirit. At least, that’s what comes through to me, after centuries of space between us, and who knows how many translations and re-interpretations…

To BE the energy of the Nio, and to DO your work with that energy.

This seems to combine a BEing with a DOing, and it appeals to me very much.

I like it, so I do it.

My sit today was very much about staying focused, staying alert, being “on point” and holding my attention and my posture firmly in position. A few times I slacked — that happens.

Then I came back to where I wanted to be.

These things take time. They take practice. If I didn’t need to practice, I probably wouldn’t be doing it in the first place ;)

So, I do it.

BEing.

DOing.

And as I write this, I am keenly aware of my posture, my focus, and the encouragement of Shosan to practice in any circumstances, especially difficult ones… to stay engaged in life and incorporate zazen into one’s daily activities, no matter how pedestrian they may seem.

So BEing supports DOing.

And vice-versa.

Which is good.