Category Archives: Zazen

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.

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

This month, I am returning to my sitting practice.

I have been away from it for a while, which happens with me, now and then. I’ve been sitting zazen since 1991, when I first learned about it and was taught by an old unofficial zen master who lived out on the land a few hours from where I grew up. I really took to it, because it was a common-sense extension of my meditative / contemplative practice, which was starting to take on a broader, more spiritually inclusive and ecumenical feel.

sitting-hands

I have sat with intention since that time.

My personal pattern since 1991 is that I’ll sit daily for some weeks or months — sometimes for 5 minutes, sometimes for 15… sometimes only once a day, sometimes twice or three times. And it’s good. Then, for some unaccountable reason, I’ll stop.

Just stop.

And go do other things.

I get busy looking into what life has to offer me. Or I feel like just sitting is not what I need to be doing with myself for a while.

And I do other things.

Then I come back. Because I’m getting too reactive to things that I know are fleeting and will pass. Or I’m feeling off-kilter and getting pulled out of whack by everybody else’s stuff. Or I really need a sense of silent focus in the midst of crazy-busy times. Or I just miss it.

The times that are crazy-busy are the times when I benefit most from taking the time to sit. I can spare the time. Especially when I think I can’t spare it.

That’s how things are right now.

Things are just a little bit nuts at work. Everyone is in a state of turmoil, and I’m no exception at times. I know that my state of mind is not helping matters any. There is a lot of static flying around — gossip and politicking and undermining in the face of organizational upheaval. There are a million different things that can — and do — pull me off balance and really trash my cool. And I know full well, it’s because I’m not completely centered… not convinced in my heart that all is Well, and that all things — including this — are fleeting and will pass.

So, I’m sitting.

Whenever I can. In the morning when I wake up, before I get into my day… either counting or simply sitting.

During the day, when I can step away and just sit and breathe for 37 breaths.

In the evening before I go to sleep… sitting cross-legged on the pillows on my bed, the comforter pulled around me snug — because it’s still cold… breathing and sitting and counting, and just letting the day fall away to make room for the present.

I sit.

It reminds me of who I am, of what I am.

It reminds me that nothing that happens outside of me is actually responsible for my inner state of mind, heart, body, and spirit.

It reminds me that at the core of my being there is a glowing coal of ecstatic wholeness that burns steadily and cannot be extinguished, even though I may allow it to be covered up by the many layers of anxiety, stress, strain, uncertainty, distrust, and plain old poor habits of thought and action.

It reminds me that I can peel away those layers — just let them go — and find once again the Truth of who and what I am, always have been, and always shall be.

And it is good.