I’m torn between continuing with Katagiri’s books and using this week to bring forward the words of women zen teachers. It’s one of those conundrums (not a koan, just a conundrum) one encounters, I suppose, in trying to find tasty nuggets of teachings that are immediate in their impact, emotionally and culturally. In the end, it was an academic exercise because, I was somewhat chagrined to discover, I don’t have many Zen Women on my shelves! Joko Beck, Joan Halifax, Maurine Stuart, Diane Eshin Rizzetto and Grace Schireson. That’s it. This calls for more mindful consumption at my local bookstores for Zen Women writers, not because I think there are better teachings to be had but because I wonder if some challenges in practice would benefit from teachers who are intimate with the conditioned female self.
In reading Katagiri’s book You Have to Say Something, I fell into the chapter titled Opening your heart which lead to certain considerations.
For anyone living a spiritual life, the most important practice is openheartedness. But dealing with life with compassion and kindness is not easy. We tend live in terms of “me.” But if you’re interested in the spiritual life, you will have to consider more than just yourself.
This is a challenge not just because of the self-protectiveness we train to deal with a lifetime of disappointments but because opening to others includes a willingness to be vulnerable to the consequences of their actions. There’s another part to this that is the cultural baggage of being female: I’m constantly told I have to consider more than just myself. It might be related to my generation but the roll call of all the women I work with says, perhaps not. It feels like a conundrum: realizing a spiritual life means not only risking hurt but also could continue to foster a gender myth of willing self-sacrifice. At the same time, if there’s an element of truth in the myth (as there often is), sacrifice should come easy. It doesn’t and I think it goes back to the willingness to experience the vulnerability of opening the heart.
At the beginning of a retreat, Roshi Joan Halifax commented that she had heard that evening so many stories of hurt, of “being dropped from arms that should have caught (us).” Joko Beck writes in Nothing Special,
…I am struck that the first layer we encounter in sitting practice is our feeling of being a victim – our feeling that we have been sacrificed to others. We have been sacrificed to others’ greed, anger, and ignorance, to their lack of knowledge of who they are.
In practice we become aware of having been sacrificed, and we are upset about this fact. We feel that we have been hurt, that we have been misused, that somebody has not treated us the way we should have been treated – and this is true. Though inevitable, it’s still true, and it hurts, or seems to.
Though inevitable. It’s taken me a long time to understand it is inevitable; careening off each other will bring an unavoidable hurt as much as it will an ineffable joy. Beck goes on to write of practice as acknowledging that we have been sacrificed and cultivating our awareness of the need to retaliate, to react. And then, to see how we too sacrifice others on the altar of our desires. This is where the openness is crucial: seeing our own willingness to sacrifice others and yet, and yet, to not do so because that is the only means of ending the cycle. The willingness to make a sacrifice whose intent is the end of suffering is not perpetuating victimhood but ending it. In fact, it strengthens the heart so it can stand up to and speak out against abuse in all its forms of rejection, unrealistic demands, and neglect.
The first dharma name given to me was Joyful Openness of the Heart. I was not wrong to see the conundrum-not-koan in it.
Thank you for practicing,
My own path – if it is that – had a lot to do with at last treating myself with the same compassion I showed others. And I find it isn’t fear of getting hurt that is uppermost; it is fear of hurting. By simply interacting and engaging others, another inevitability is causing pain, without malice, by simple virtue of being, because of the expectations or needs of others not being met. Those things are simply uncontrollable. You remind someone of someone that abused them…someone falls in love with you, and you can’t reciprocate…you try to be a good parent, which often involves consistency and the upholding of discipline…all hurtful. Behind this is not just a shallow need to be liked or loved, but a real regret that simple interaction is so potentially painful. Still, a bit of pain only makes for a full life.
There is very little I would label sacrifice, unless it’s the valuable time I spend picking up my husband’s dirty socks!
Joko Beck’s way of stating that “we have been sacrificied to other’s greed, hate and delusion” and that we do the same is an interesting way of expressing it. It makes it very clear to me then, why resentment and anger arise in these situations. And I have to say it makes me cringe a bit to see that I also sacrifice others at the alter of my desire, how quickly and unconsciously this happens.
I remember in one of her books she uses an example that if we were on a lake in a boat and another boat banged into us, we would immediately turn, perhaps angrily to see who did it. If we noticed the boat was empty our anger would most likely dissipate. I think my work often is just this, to see the boat as empty, to not take it personally. Then I don’t feel so much as if I’ve been sacrificed.
Other Buddhist (though not Zen) women I love to read are Tenzin Palmo and Tsultrim Allione and of course there’s the prolific Pema Chodron.
Thank you both! It always amazes me how my environment is in charge of me. 😉 Then I have to remember I am part of everyone else’s environment… even if I were on a deserted island!
Carole, I love Pema Chodron. Comfortable with Uncertainty got me through a tough period when we thought Frank had cancer. 😆 I’m looking at the subtitle: 108 Teachings on Cultivating Fearlessness and Compassion!