There’s a wall the springs up about halfway through anything I try to do.  I used to think there was no warning; as I learned to listen closely to my body, I began to detect the early sounds of the bricks thumping into place.  It doesn’t stop me from running smack into it but it has taught me to slow the pace so I don’t embed myself deep in the stonework on contact.

In the last few years, this wall has been building.  I could see its beginnings from the distance.  Every moment I spent in chaotic frenzy trying to fix things or get things done, added a brick or two.  Every excuse that took me away from practice provided the mortar to seal the cracks.  And here it is now.

Frank was away  – a weekend retreat at Zen Mountain Monastery.  When he calls (you’re calling me in the middle of a retreat???), I chatter on about nothing, my voice blocking any view of the wall behind me.  In another conversation, the pain and exhaustion spill over.  I’m tired of being tired.  I’m tired of not understanding why this wall is sitting here.  He says sagely, There’s no understanding this.  Just accept.  A weekend with Zennies and you sound like a Zen Master, I shoot back.  Only because he’s right.

I tend to bypass that first step, acceptance, in the hopes I can get on with endurance.  It seems more noble to act the character of teeth-gritting effort than to seem to surrender.  Yet I know from every other encounter with suffering that the resistance to its presence delays just getting on with it.  In facing the difficult and the unwanted, there is only one practice:

be with it; it is already here.

Roshi Aitken describes the poet Basho’s response to difficult circumstances on a pilgrimage:

Fleas, lice,
The horse pissing
Near my pillow

Aitken goes on to quote R. Blyth’s commentary of the poem: “We must be cold and hungry, flea-ridden and lonely, companions of sorrow and acquainted with grief….  It is the feeling ‘These things too…'”

Although there’s a danger of becoming an emotional masochist, the intent is to know honestly what it is I’m dealing with.  What is it that is here?  What is it that has taken up residence in the center of my chest, my throat, and deep in my gut?

And then it becomes clear that all which went before is in preparation for this moment.

Thank you for practicing,


3 thoughts on “endurance

  1. Last week Gabor Mate (see this Thursday’s post) said,

    “When you see the what, you see the how.”

    (I’m thinking about writing about this next week.)

    It’s such a simple teaching, and yet it can be so hard to see the “what.” Or, put more honestly, we often don’t want to see the “what.” Whether it’s a wall or some other impediment, I suspect that we often deny or rationalize it in some way (my favorite: “It’s not that bad!”).

    But, with practice (“How is it, just now?”) we can see not only the wall but its foundations. Then the how appears! Wonderful!

    Thank you for working with these texts in such a deep way.


  2. What a wonderfully direct approach to something we all experience and carry around with us. I read a wonderful quote this morning from the blog, “Waking Up” that describes an approach to seeing what is:

    “Spend fifteen minutes exploring your experience as it arises moment to moment. The practice is to allow yourself to be where you are. Recognize whatever your experience is and let it be. If your are simply aware of it, with curiosity and interest, it will begin to reveal itself, and it will flow and move to the next moment. If you continue to let it be as it is, all the while remaining interested in what it is, the changes in experience become a process, an unfoldment, an inner inquiry, and discovery.”

    — Almaas, A.H. (Waking Up: http://bit.ly/7yEsDB)

    That question of “How is it, just now?” will be a tremendously useful reminder for me to make an inner effort to observe what is taking place in the moment. It could really be a beautiful invitation into the unknown.

    I find that I often have this tendency to forget that I am not just my thoughts or my emotions, since I am so often lost in them. I need to remember that there can always be something else that quietly watches.

    Thank you for posting.



  3. Thank you both for your insights! Often I don’t even realize I’ve defensively shape-shifted the “what”. It’s called the tyranny of re-framing. Everything is “really” something else. I sat with “How is it, just now” tonight in sangha and it was scary powerful to feel what was sitting with me.

    Barry, yes please, write of it. You are an amazing teacher. The Tao of How? 😉

    Luke, I had forgotten about Waking Up (in many senses) so thank you for re-directing me there! As you describe, I find myself in a swirl of thoughts, emotions and sensations that take me so far away from the source. (I call it getting on trains and leaving the station – often headed for a cliff.) It is nice sometimes to realize it and get off soon enough that the hoof back to the station is not too far. 🙂

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