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:
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,