It’s not possible to separate going and coming. In a literal sense, I’ve gone from and come to a number of different practice centers. In the very real sense of life-and-death, it’s been a persistent struggle to embody oneness with what is. In Returning to Silence, Katagiri writes,”This is just going, just coming.” He tells the story of Gutei’s one finger: Tenryu, Gutei’s teacher, always held up one finger in answer to everything. Gutei thought this was a terrific answer so copied it. The long and short of it was that Tenryu chopped off Gutei’s finger. This enlightened Gutei to the truth of authenticity, of being exactly who you are without parroting another’s reality.
This is a tough path for a fundamentally deluded person. How can I skillfully use the teachings without pantomiming the teacher? At the level of practice, I began with TM and slowly unfolded into zazen. I don’t recall how that evolved except that it has. I’ve been sitting since I was 19 years old when meditation began as an attempt to sustain a relationship with a boy friend who wanted to learn TM. Later, as I faced challenges and disappointments, meditating became first a way to cope with stress and then just a way to be with myself. As I became involved with mindfulness communities, particularly as a student of Thich Nhat Hanh, practice emerged as a way to be with others.
The process of mimicking the teacher is a natural beginning for any student. We take on the persona of those we perceive to be more powerful or who, we believe, have salvaged our lives. We fall in love easily with the person who plucks us from the wild ocean, confusing relief to have escaped death for an enduring commitment of the rescuer. Inevitably, that kind of clinging, greedy connection will be severed like Gutei’s finger. When it has happened to me, the pain was overwhelming and the silence made some forms of practice intolerable. I can’t tell you why I’ve persisted with my practice through such pain, except that it’s now the only thing I know to do. I think it’s a form of skillful waiting: waking, washing, eating, working, crying, laughing, drinking tea. Laying down the path, moment by moment, step by step – not because anyone has told me so but because it is what is going to get done anyway. Eventually, out of that process comes a clarity – first, of what is being practiced and then, an authentic ownership of practicing.
Through all the transitions and evolutions, however, I’ve felt a sense that the song stops short of the last verse, the last note. Perhaps this is what the Chaplaincy path is about: a transition to practice what is outward-moving, a challenge to cultivate a way of being for others that is built on all the joy and disappointments that form the bedrock of my practice to this point. Keeping that don’t-know mind is going to be a particular challenge over the next two years.
Thank you for practicing,
Next: gate of silence