on the selfie of self-compassion – part 2

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Here’s your ear worm: You’re no bunny ’til somebunny loves you!

And you may have to lose you head before you can apprehend it.

Strangely though all this is quite pertinent to our question of the self in self-compassion that I posted last week. If you scroll back to the post, the comments are well worth the read as they touch on the illusory self, the suffering self, and its need for compassion. There’s a pointer to the “True Self” and that is very interesting because we get into that tricky semantic process of “self” versus “Self.” All very worthy responses and, in particular, the suggestion that the Buddha actually never said there was no self.

So, at the retreat, my response to the question was the executive summary of all these comments. (I don’t remember exactly what I said but this is close enough.) We hold this belief that there is an absolute self, an agent in our lives that directs and orchestrates. When we look closely, we might be able to see that this self is really a construction of expectations, concepts, ideas, reactions, schema (as in Cognitive Therapy) and protections. The form experiences a contact and the  mind grabs it with an interpretation. Oh, I’m being abandoned. Oh, I’m being judged. Oh, I’m losing something precious. The practice of cultivating mindfulness of each of these arising, these “I-makings” (see this post on Evan Thompson’s book Mind and Life), results in awareness of our agitation and anxiety from holding to the constructed self of the moment. So what is the “self” in “self-compassion”? I think as we practice acknowledging the unhelpful constructions and the way it causes our suffering, we begin to chip away at the build-up of crap that covers what Jack Kornfield calls our “Original Goodness“, that true, luminous self that is worthy of care and love.

Now, that latter piece is where I took a wrong turn. Not that there isn’t Original Goodness or  Buddha Nature because Dogen certainly covers that in Genjokoan. It’s just a huge leap from creating our suffering to that awe-filled moment of seeing the gold under the dross. So, let’s back up this little vehicle!

The self is a performance and therefore not substantial.  It emerges out of conditions but is not reducible to them.

Life is a process of “I-making”.

Notes from Evan Thompson’s talk at Zen Brain retreat Upaya Zen Center

I was lucky that the online course given by Robert Wright on Buddhism and Modern Psychology hit the topic of non-self the day after the retreat. Wright (author of the Moral Animal) interviewed Bhikkhu Bodhi who sets the groundwork. You know, all of understanding Buddhism rests on understanding the Buddha’s intention and pedagogy and, not the least, on realizing the Buddha might have been more an epistemologist than a psychologist. (Ooo… Frank just re-stated this: The Buddha was more interested in the human experience rather than what it took to be human. No wonder I keep him around!) Back to Bhikkhu Bodhi: he pointed out in the video interview that the Buddha used different modes of discourse depending on context.

If the context was one of cultivating insight and aspiration for liberation, then we needed to dive into the primary obstacles of the five aggregates and the three poisons. To do that it was necessary to apprehend all objects of clinging as “not self.” If the context was to cultivate ethical action and the consideration of karma and the fruits of karma, then he used the language of self-hood and responsibility. The tricky part – and it’s not just semantics – is that this can be named a self, which may be capitalized to differentiate it, but it’s in the service of acknowledging one has responsibility for one’s actions and intentions.

Wright also introduced Peter Harvey’s book The Selfless Mind which is a terrific analysis of the meaning of non-self in the Pali Canon. Harvey explains that Edward Conze cautioned against the trivial interpretation that because the Buddha is believed to have said that the Self cannot be apprehended, therefore there is no self that exists. Conze’s reasons, according to Harvey, are that “the Buddha taught ‘self’ to coarse materialists, ‘nonexistence of self’ to egoists, and to those near nibbana and free from all love of self, he taught ‘that there is neither self nor not self.’ p. 18″ Furthermore, “(h)aving ‘self as master’, then means being in charge of oneself, preserving one’s integrity by not doing anything that one would be ashamed of. No underlying ‘Great Self’ is implied. p.28″

And, our Pali scholar in virtual residence, Justin Whitaker, wrote this great post on week four’s lecture.

(Wright) interviews Dr. Robert Kurzban, author of the dazzlingly titled, “Why Everyone (Else) Is a Hypocrite: Evolution and the Modular Mind.” Kurzban tells him that the ‘self’ he thinks he has is really more of a ‘press secretary’ than an executive officer. A lot of the decision making that is going on is actually not known to that ‘press secretary’ of a self. 

Study in Buddhism long enough and you begin to catch on early in a discussion that context determines the teachings. And we can’t forget that the Buddha exhorted his monks to indeed go in search of the self (Vinaya I.23 in the Selfless Mind). This is not that far from each of us seeking to find who we are even as we become someone else.  What really stands out here is the subtlety of language. Self as an emergent property of clinging to, rejection of, and confusion about our experiences, inner and outer. Self as ghost writer of our experiences in the genre of shame and blame. Self as agent in discernment of wholesome from unwholesome actions. Self as upaya, process, verb not noun. Harvey summarizes it well:

Harvey

 

The press secretary self is a compelling personna and pertinent to the self in self-compassion. Scanning through the Majjhima Nikaya 138, I was really caught by the nuance of the way clinging, rejection, and confusion keep us stuck. In v.20, Maha Kaccana (summarizing the Buddha’s teaching) works through the process and showed that obsession with form, feeling, perceptions, mental formations and consciousness renders us agitated and preoccupied with their changes. This preoccupation gives rise to anxiety, distress, and concern. This is our nub of suffering, these press releases of dire consequences for being who we were in a nanomoment. This is suffering, the self who suffers.

Now the problem with the word “self” is that if we want to use it to point to a materialistic phenomena (these symptoms of anxiety and distress) or if we want to lay claim to a changing cluster of experiences, we’d have to honor Conze’s explanation of the Buddha’s rationale for his teaching style and get stuck with being called a coarse materialist or egoist¹. Neither actually fit the intention of the practice of self-compassion.

But the Buddha taught more than just about non-self so there is a way out of this (thanks to Harvey’s detailed analysis).

Self is protector of oneself,
for what other protector would there be?
For with a well-controlled self
one gains a protector hard to gain.

Dhammapada 160

As well, in the Rajan Sutta, following on King Mallika’s proclamation that there is no one dearer to him than himself, the Buddha says:

Searching all directions
with your awareness,
you find no one dearer
than yourself.
In the same way, others
are thickly dear to themselves.
So you shouldn’t hurt others
if you love yourself.

So, there you have it. Because we know, we are aware of how dear we are to ourselves, we have the opportunity to then be compassionate to others who feel the same about themselves. Compassion for others is contingent on our capacity to see our own value.

But that value often is shrouded in our shame, our sense of unworthiness, our fears of being abandoned, being cast out, being judged as lacking.

The self referenced in self-compassion is a complete self. It is the press secretary, the one velcro-ed to form, feeling, perception, mental formations, and consciousness. And. And it is the self who relishes the joy, competence, thrill, connection, ease, and resonance with others. I’ve quoted Kaz Tanahashi before: the enso contains both perfect and imperfect; that is why it is complete.

When I can be fully with that completeness, meet it with kindness, and know that others feel the same way², I am free of my head, that thinking brain. Being free of that thinking brain, I am also free of that constructed, constricting self (if ever so briefly). And the self in self-compassion is thus rendered neither self nor no-self.

It is just another place marker of where my practice gains traction.

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¹I do have to note that in MN 148, the Buddha does teach that the aggregates are “not self” but it is a device to demonstrate the falsifiability of the clinging self through reductio ad absurdum. And it’s antidote “This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self” is less a denial of selfhood than of gaining clarity of the experience. Don’t take my word; I’m waiting on my Pali scholar pal to get back to me on this one.

² The three components of self-compassion: mindfulness, self-kindness, and common humanity. See Christopher Germer & Kristin Neff

on the selfie of self-compassion – part 1

 

I’m like one of those Japanese bowls… I have some cracks in me, they have been filled with gold…

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HI there! It’s been a while, hasn’t it? Last you looked I was headed off on a training retreat to learn how to teach a self-compassion program developed by Chris Germer and Kristin Neff. It was quite the gathering of folks from all over the world. I suppose that says a lot about the state of the world and the wish of so many of us that something… anything… perhaps self-compassion practice even… could create a shift away from our determined efforts to create suffering.

As with any retreat, I learned – and keep learning – that the process is subtle, sneaky, and seductive. Somewhere along the way (and I don’t recall when it happened), I discovered this splinter just west of my heart. One of those things you don’t know is there and that it has had you off-kilter until it’s no longer there. To be honest, I don’t even know the accreted story around the splinter other than it having something to do with shame.

Of course, it has to do with shame. What else would sit festering and infecting everything, cracking apart the rigid calcified self-constructs only to create more? Fun times were had by all my constructed and contrived selves!

And then this past weekend, I had the absolute delight to co-teach with Chris Germer right here in my own backyard. Almost 100 people at the retreat and I was gobsmacked by the kindness and solid practice. You might say to me, “Hey Genju! Can you see it now? No need for shame or unworthiness. Feel the love, Girl! Fill those cracks with gold!”

You might and you’d be right. Except for that moment when that Thing happens in a retreat. You know the one I mean: where you’re bopping along and BAM! you get that ole familiar mind worm about screwing up. Right at that moment, as I shut down for how long I don’t know, Chris leaned over and said something about how the session was flowing. Something about how he would do this differently next time and that he was doing fine but really preferred the back-and-forth. Having been shut down and on high threat alert, my mind and body flooded with shame. I had let my co-teacher down! We got through the rest of the day and you know I sat up all night deconstructing this nanomoment, right?

Well hell. It was a self-compassion retreat so that’s what I practiced. Not with the idea that I wanted the suffering to end but – as Chris says – BECAUSE I was suffering! And then (really after about 4 hours of torment), I heard his words again but understood them differently. Earlier someone had said they wanted to hear more from him about self-compassion; he and I consulted and agreed it was a good idea for him to carry the late morning and afternoon session. He wasn’t referring to my preoccupation. He was referring to the imbalance of the teaching dynamic after we decided to shift our roles. Can you see those cracks filling in with gold?

Checking in the next morning, it was clear that my high threat stance had really warped the message. But wait, it doesn’t end here!

In the Q&A, one participant asked: If in Buddhist teachings we are told to see there is no self, what is the self in self-compassion?

Yah. One of those questions. But it opens the door to asking whether self-compassion is really a selfie. (Spoiler alert: I don’t agree that it is but let’s hash it out.)

OK. You take a stab at this and I’ll publish my answer and my revised answer in the next post.

 

a thousand hands of compassion – book review

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Some time ago, one of my dharma friends sent me this lovely book. A Thousand Hands of Compassion: The Chant of Korean Spirituality and Enlightenment by Seon Master Daehaeng¹. I was strangely moved. Strangely because I have never really believed that people who haven’t met face to face actually have the capacity to activate a resonance that one might call a bond, a quiet joy, a sense of being considered kindly. More strangely because I thought I’d done enough work on my own walls and thickets, been the recipient of enough gifts from people I’ve not yet met and those I may never meet to have these walls become porous enough for kindness to flow in.

But there you have it. I am one gnarly, snarly nut to riddle with holes.

Kindness is an interesting thing. It’s one of those behaviourally-based activities that is only known when seen. I do find it easy to be kind. Ultimately it doesn’t cost anything and there is a feel-good factor when all is said and given.

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Compassion, however, is something else all together. It costs everything. And it requires that we are willing to be in the presence of everything. There are no options or substitutions allowed.

My one mind is the root of all things.
All things arise from it,
so all things I completely entrust to it.
This letting go
fills my heart with light. (p. 36)

This book is an amazing opportunity to practice just that fortitude. Taken from different sutras, it is compiled as a single text and chanted daily in Korean temples. The verses call on us to devote ourselves to that one mind that is the mind of all Buddhas. Some read as short recitations that almost evoke a full prostration. Others are slightly longer tracts that evoke an inner call-and-response. Each page carries a verse, Korean on one side, English on the other, and is enriched by the stunning art of Hyo Rim.
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The minds of all Buddhas are my mind.
Nothing I see, hear, or do
exists apart from
the truth they realized.
My one mind itself is the Buddha-dharma,
present throughout all aspects
of my life. (p.24)

Tomorrow Frank and I leave for our respective retreats. He’s off to something somewhere that hopefully won’t have him terrorizing other meditators with his death stare. I’m off to learn a bit about self-compassion. It seems an oxymoron this term “self-compassion” but I do recall spending about two years on the first two lines of the Metta Sutta.

May I be free from suffering
May I be at peace

So I’m taking this book and my mala beads and an appreciation for T.S. Eliot.

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
― T.S. EliotFour Quartets

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¹You can read more about Seon Master Daehaeng here.

diy dhamma drama or here we goes agin

I posted this on my Facebook status:

We are The Holy Relic of the Misappropriated Matcha. Our rituals include eating Green Tea Ice Cream to show our unmitigated devotion to all things sacrilegious. In a “not-yer-mamma’s-non-duality” way, of course!

It’s a response to a series of posts from various places. The first series was in reaction to Wisdom 2.0 which berated secular forms of mindfulness programs (here we go again). These posts by various Buddhist teachers and organizations expressed concerns that mindfulness taught in profit-centered corporations would serve only to create worker drones and therefore lead to more oppression than liberation. This one’s been argued with accompanied flogging of the blindly-accepted prediction that teaching mindfulness in places of ill-ethical repute will end badly for the 99%.

Because I tend to believe that we, as purveyors of secular mindfulness programs, need to be clear on our own ethics which would guide who we serve, I also believe that we can discern when offering mindfulness programs may or may not be a good thing. It’s that nonduality thing. Samsara/Nirvana. At the same time, I do wish that those in the know – meaning those Buddhist scholars and teachers who are vehement about NOT bringing mindfulness programs to corporations who practice unwholesomely – would offer me some clear evidence that this oppression is a real outcome and not a theoretical one. It’s that science thing. You know, evidence. Because without evidence, I’m likely to not get in my car and drive to work each day because the stats say more people die from vehicle accidents than anything else (yes, yes, fossil fuels but my horse is too old to be galloped into the city).

So, please. Send me the facts. Or at the very least a well articulated argument for NOT delivering such a program. You know, it’s that risk analysis thing.

from DeviantArt.com ChopenWell, a bit further up my Facebook feed was this picture from Sharon Salzberg’s Facebook page and attributed to DeviantArt(ist) Chopen. It was underscored by the quote:

When we experience dissatisfaction at work, which everyone does we can use our disappointment as fuel to wake up.

Sharon Salzberg
from Real Happiness at Work
Image by Chopen

Really? Really. The post boasts 15 shares and 51 likes. Really. Women in what one commenter called an “alienating job” being linked to the idea of “dissatisfaction at work”… which everybody feels… and the idea that it can be transcended by seeking to use it as a tool to wake up.

I once worked in a factory much like this one. It was the only way out of the Montreal slum-like housing and to stay in University. The 11PM to 6AM shift which required waiting in the dark at a bus stop by the Metropolitan underpass. I didn’t have the luxury of feeling dissatisfied. I did wake up. Not waking up was not an option  because after catching the bus at 6:30AM I had to get home, sleep an hour, and get to classes. But enough about me. In all the shares and comments there was only one that asked the burning question: Are you saying that being oppressed is an opportunity to wake up (I assume in the Buddhist sense of attaining liberation)?

Well heck. In that case, let us all descend on the corporations and encourage this oppression through misappropriated mindfulness because that might work better than good old fashioned Buddhism!

I’m not being rhetorical because I do wonder why that post and its implication did not draw the ire of dhamma purists. Maybe because it comes from within the dhamma circle and so is acceptable? Could it be that all this mindfulness practice does have a suppressing effect on our discernment of when something just plain is not right? Maybe these are not politic questions to ask.

However, I do ask why so many intelligent Buddhist scholars and practitioners are jumping on this bandwagon of bashing secular programs when they have the wisdom and knowledge to do better. I don’t have an answer for that however I think some of the critiques – not criticisms because many of those are just wildly histrionic – are important to consider. So here are my two questions for the Buddhist scholars:

What’s up with this term Mindfulness? It’s not an easy concept and comes with a boatload of  interpretations whose perspectives depend on the particular Buddhist tradition. What’s worse is that the secular Mindfulness, as in MB+something, is a mash-up of Theravada meditation systems, Mahayana philosophical concepts (like non-dualism), and some yogacara thrown in for good circulation. Good luck trying to line that up to some pure form of the Dhamma/Dharma. When Jon Kabat-Zinn put all this together he truly believed it was a working model and that scholars in time would work out the kinks. All I can say is the kinks have come home to roost and scholars are not happy about it. And it would be nice if, in the popular press, we spent more time understanding that “Mindfulness” is no more monolithic than Buddhism.

What’s up with this need for ethics and that damned sniper who is clearly doomed to Buddha Hell? Buddhists, interviewed about secular mindfulness, trot this example out: without ethics, a sniper whose fully-focused attention would be seen as mindful is not because the intent of his actions are unwholesome – i.e., he’s going to kill someone. Well, that’s true… but only partially so. Peter Harvey has a terrific section in his book on ethics¹ about who can break precepts and under what conditions. It’s not so clear-cut as it turns out. There are all kinds of contingencies but the bottom line is “it depends.” Killing is wrong, period. However, the agent of the killing is not, in Mahayana perspectives, immediately consigned to rounds of poor rebirth. It depends and (spoiler alert) it requires cultivating clear comprehension through sila. I’m no scholar but I sure would have liked to see this aspect pounded out in the criticisms of secular mindfulness and the implications of not having an ethical framework in its curriculum.

Why? Because it helps to provide a sound rationale for making changes in a practice model that may not be as good as it could be.

And because saying “You’re wrong, Just do it our way” is authoritarian and has a snowball’s chance in the Sahara of getting people to listen. Especially, scientistic materialistic types like me. Not to mention that it triggers retorts like “If all things are impermanent then accept this change in your dogma.” Or “If there is no fixed self then doesn’t that mean mindfulness is not just one thing?” Or “I feel for your dukkha. Here’s a brochure of my next course; it might help deal with the stress.”

I don’t worry about misappropriations. Green Tea Ice Cream was my last rant over the evil use of good matcha. Before that, I railed against the way psychiatrists used therapy as a quick-fix for their medication fails. And before that, I railed against physicians doing psychotherapy because they were burned out from their overloaded family practices. If you think you own something and are defined by it, you are going to see someone as taking it away and being incompetent at it. But that’s different from holding them accountable for learning how to be competent at it.

That’s what’s missing in this lop-sided furore over the use of mindfulness and the dire consequences thereof.

All right. I’ve ranted enough. I want to acknowledge the following scholars for their forward-looking attitudes: Bhikkhu Bodhi in his article in Contemporary Buddhism, Robert Scharf in his video on how Insight Meditation came to the lake, Richard Payne for his insightful comment on the reality of corporations and not thinking we can teach them ethics, Seth Segall for his post that we not lose sight of the good that is possible even if these programs are seen as half-measures.

¹An Introduction to Buddhist Ethics: Foundations, Values and Issues By Peter Harvey

gyres of time & space – a review of ruth ozeki’s a tale for the time being

So here I am, at Fifi’s Lonely Apron, staring at all these blank pages and asking myself why I’m bothering, when suddenly an amazing idea knocks me over. Ready? Here it is:

I will write down everything I know about Jiko’s life in Marcel’s book, and when I’m done, I’ll just leave it somewhere, and you will find it!

How cool is that? It feels like I’m reaching forward through time to touch you, and now that you’ve found it, you’re reaching back to touch me!

tb-cover-993x1500Ruth Ozeki, in A Tale for the Time Being, sets up an unimaginable relationship between Nao Yasutani and an anticipated reader. Sixteen years old, Nao is sitting in a parody of a French café in Tokyo, with a gutted book whose cover is the only hint that it once contained Marcel Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu. She has a plan to write her great-grandmother Jiko’s life story, all the while also intending her suicide when the task is done. Yasutani Jiko, “the famous anarchist-feminist-novelist-turned-Buddhist-nun of the Taisho era,” is 104 years old and lives in her temple in Sendai, where the 2011 tsunami struck, sweeping most of the district out to sea.

Across the Pacific, on an island off the British Columbia coast, Ruth finds a Hello Kitty lunchbox in the debris along the beach. It is packed with several objects each packed in a freezer bag. She takes out a book, a gutted volume titled À la recherche du temps perdu. And she reads:

Hi!…My name is Nao, and I’m a time being. Do you know what a time being is?…

Like the gyres¹ weaving across the ocean carrying warm air and debris, the story of Nao and her family link into Ruth’s life on an isolated island where she unintentionally has fallen behind herself. Nao writes with a coy approach-avoidance but slowly, as the muse works its way into her heart, the pain of her losses reveals the currents in her story. Intermittently, Jiko contributes to easing her confusion or mediating the fascinating dialogue between Nao and her reader (Ruth) across time and space. Interpenetrating the narrative are Jiko’s wisdom conveyed through the essence of Dogen’s teachings which Nao takes to heart and which open Ruth to her own.

Nao’s discovery of her family history and its lineage of suffering stops the breath as it unfolds. The assumptions about weakness and strength, anger and sorrow, play out as Nao survives being brutally bullied and learns, with Jiko’s training, to see beyond the humiliation. Nao’s parents flow along a parallel current, dragging their own weighty hopelessness and misunderstandings. Like most teenaged girls, she has little time for their way of being time beings. Yet, her fears are no different from any child: that she might be abandoned by their decisions, that she has been abandoned by their neglect, that she has no refuge because the apartment they inhabit is choked with their collective pain.

Obsessed by the contents of the Hello Kitty lunchbox, Ruth searches for evidence that Nao and her family are real. A novelist herself, she dredges the internet for information, uncovering bit by painful bit what is possible to know. Woven into her search is also a search for refuge, for home, for settling into the time and place she inhabits. Her own losses are covered over by her assumptions and misunderstandings of how relationships express sorrow and hopelessness. As Ruth discovers more about one member of Nao’s family, she begins to understand that satisfaction is not a companion of living to ones values, that the complex process of being true to oneself can exact an enormous price, wittingly or unwittingly.

Ruth Ozeki has crafted a complex story of love. Nao is unflinchingly teenaged, with all the raw wisdom that it embodies and all the rampant passion with which it is expressed. Ruth (the character, though one wonders if there are threads of Ozeki herself, how could there not be) is wonderfully obsessed as a researcher, affronted when her protectiveness is disregarded, aloof in her sorrow, and intimate in her not knowing. Jiko is a solid rock in the winds that tear around her family, a solidity that comes only from profound pain and profound dedication to being alive. Crossing both time and space yet resisting actually anchoring in either requires a master craftsperson and Ozeki doesn’t fail to deliver. On reflection, although the entire book is hinged on the possibility of the tsunami’s role in bridging space, one is left with that ultimate not knowing: is it? There are other plotted moments of not knowing how…who…what?? But ultimately it matters less that the currents are purified than to simply enter the fundamental unknowability of anything.

The beauty of A Tale for the Time Being is that, despite the intricacies, it keeps the reader planted firmly in the moment of reading. And yet when the last page arrives, inevitably, there is an in-breath as if there could be more. And there is…

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¹Gyres are rotating ocean currents that move with wind currents.

the blinding sound of a calling

calling

I’ve been feeling more deeply how frustrating my peripatetic spiritual path has been. Is. And, for whatever the reason, it’s been more piercing than ever lately. Even more, it doesn’t escape my symbol-loving mind that it began 9 months ago when I made the decision to forego Summer Ango and Rohatsu so I could be with family, awaiting the arrival of the Gr’Kid.

The intent of Ango and Rohatsu however is not only the ongoing cultivation of my spiritual path but also the process of engaging in the path of the novice priest. It looks strange writing it out; some of you already know of this aspiration and practice and I bow deeply to your patience as I harangued you with all my doubts, convoluted cognitions, and self-serving angst.

This is a huge piece of my spiritual life. I knew in a flash of  a moment at the age of 9 years, standing in a church hall watching a young girl who was part of a diorama of  a Methodist nun caring for little baby (it was a doll, but powerful nevertheless). I knew it again sitting zazenkai at the Montreal Zen Centre with master Albert Low as his attendant stepped up to adjust Low’s robes and set the stage for the teisho. I know it again and again standing across from my teacher at morning services at Upaya, blinded by the power of eye-to-eye contact and heart-to-heart connection.

And I know it more powerfully than ever as I walk the hospital halls with my Chaplain colleagues or sit round-table with them developing more and more compassionate ways to met the great matter of living and dying.

And  yet… and yet… this dewdrop world is far-flung and complex.

When I first tried to articulate this ephemeral sense of a calling, it was met with stunned silence which I took to mean I was unworthy. And then there was the mind-twisting advice to not ask because by asking it showed wanting which meant craving and how could it be a real calling if it was a craving. That was easy to dismiss as zennobabble. The wiser mitras pointed out that the practice was in stepping off that 100-foot pole, in letting it all explode into dust, and to know that asking was just another way of piercing the illusion of something to be had.

While there is truly nothing to be gained from ordination, there is much to be lost from not honouring the calling. The power of that driving force is inescapable. It pervades every thought, word, and action. It is cetanā, intention, of every connection. It is all-consuming and abjects us to all means of being in service. And for many of us, it is not necessarily available. And that is a profound loss for both the individual and community.

In my conversations with two of my dearly loved dharma sisters and brothers, I explored all these aspects. The possibility is that we already live a priesthood; true and yet that begs the point of serving overtly in community. The possibility is that it can be sublimated into a lay form of service; true and yet it contradicts the intent of practice being the realization of our true nature. The possibility is that it can happen but not in the specific community or way one had hoped; true and for some of us, this is the most non-negotiable because ordination is a public celebration of our relationship with our spiritual birth-community.

And then there’s the specific one I face and struggle against: the possibility that there may not be a configuration of time and energy. This takes time, a never-ending series of renunciations of the dew drop world. Months away from family (and work  income that supports all this – a financial ouroborus), reconfiguring all the responsibilities of being a householder, letting go of commitments to be present for birthdays, anniversaries, and the likelihood that this body may no longer be able to withstand the physical rigours of this form of practice. I hold out the hope that being a time being, it – and I – will unfold in time.

Not surprising, this week there was the blinding call of time pressing. James Ford wrote here of what a couple of wrong decisions could have meant and why the evening chant is a deep calling. And Brookie at The Blue Lotus Seed wrote here of the ever-changing identity of the sangha’s meditation space and the heart that continues to be present, concluding with the call to find a seat because time is fleeting. And Ruth Ozeki in A Tale for the Time Being wrote of the merits of home-leaving and Dogen’s exhortation of his monks:

Life is fleeting! Don’t waste a single moment of your precious life!
Wake up now!
And now!
And now!

We lose many things on the path. A sense of entitlement, righteousness, specialness. Gone. Gone, the sense that time limits us. Worn away in the chaffing against time beings.

We take on many things on this path. A sense of duty, loyalty, service. Of being blinded by a calling yet not blind to what it means as it unfolds in time.

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About the photo: I chose it for the piercing points of the ice. As I was playing with the image, it revealed the twisting colouration embedded in the ice. A reflection of the pergola caught, frozen into the icicle. Somehow it seemed very fitting to the topic.

Ruth Ozeki

Genju:

I rarely reblog articles but this is a lovely interview with Ruth Ozeki. Her book, A Tale for the Time Being, is on my “currently reading” list .

Originally posted on nineteenquestions:

ruth-ozeki

Photo Credit: Kris Krug

Interviewed by Kris Kosaka

Bestselling author Ruth Ozeki celebrates the Zen idea of the “positionless position,” the “not one not two” ambiguity of life with her being and her work. Her third novel, A Tale for the Time Being, was short-listed for the 2013 Man Booker Prize in Literature. Her earlier novels, My Year of Meats and All Over Creation were also critically acclaimed and have been translated into 11 languages and published in 14 countries.

Ozeki is half Japanese and half American in ethnicity, holds American and Canadian citizenship and divides her time between New York city and Desolation Sound along the Sunshine Coast in British Columbia. Ozeki started her artistic career as a filmmaker, and her documentaries and dramatic independent films have been shown on PBS, at the Sundance Film Festival, and in colleges and universities across the States.

In addition to being…

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