koan konfusion

One of the struggles during Rohatsu was the question of continuing with the Chaplaincy program.  There’s definitely a lot of ego involved in the decision, which ever way it goes.  The typical way to approach this is to set up the scales that will weigh out the options.  If I were my patient, that’s certainly what I’d suggest.  And I definitely (knowing the kind of patient I am) would not expect compliance.  Which is good because the point of suggesting an exercise is not to get compliance but rather to see if comprehension can bubble to the surface.  But that requires a level of subtlety and trust in the unobservable process of mind.

Like a koan.

Jay Haley, master of prescribing the symptom and a mystic of paradoxes, would have made a great Zen master.  He would have sent me out of his office with the injunction that I was NOT, absolutely NOT to make any decisions – no peas or carrots decisions, no red or green sweater decisions, none.  Life would be reduced to one gigantic ball of indecision that I could neither swallow nor throw up.  Luckily, I could never afford Haley as a therapist and have to settle for me.

I’m more of the School of Sledgehammer Therapy.  Don’t get me wrong, I can do the subtle stuff: so what do you notice when you consider the possibility of going back for a second year?  But very quickly, as I watch my mind careen and collide against rapidly expanding if-then flowcharts in my skull, I lose patience.  Subtlety and support go out the window and the Big Stick of Reality comes out.

In this case, reality is not an actuarial count of yeah and nay.  And that makes it tough.  Reality is that comprehension requires indecision.  Unable to tolerate indecision, I take refuge in the intellect.  What symptoms could I prescribe to get under the intellectual grip of the problem?  10, 000 prostrations (not a bad idea; Enkyo roshi spoke of bows being good for a narcissist)?  Copying 108 sutras in Pali (sure; got all the time in world to do that for the next three months).  Circumambulate the Shwe Dagon Pagoda (not likely; the barn will have to do)?  Sit another 7 day sesshin (hah!  and develop another obsession with red toenails)?

Thankfully, I know me too well some days.  The decision will not surface as the endpoint of an intellectual exercise.  It certainly will not emerge through introspection or being open to the universe (all that does is have my brains fall out anyway).  Like the morning star that pierced Shakyamuni all the way through to the ancient layers of his being, comprehension will surface and work its magic in its own time.

In the meantime, a few prostrations, sutra copying, mindful trekking through the woods couldn’t hurt.

2 thoughts on “koan konfusion

  1. When I look back (isn’t it easy to look backwards!) at the momentous decisions in my life, it seems like the challenges didn’t come in making the decisions themselves (the decisions, in their own ways, simply appeared) but in grappling with the consequences of the decisions. ‘Cause decisions always have consequences and – for me – these are nearly always unforeseen. It’s not so easy for me to look forward.

    • Is it a consequence of practice that looking forward becomes less and less easy? The pragmatic consequences are easy to see and I don’t have much problem with them. The tough ones are discerning between craving (I want more of this, less of that) and a wish to study the dharma in a different(?) way. There’s also the “unforeseen” consequence that fulfilling the curriculum of the program has brought me into contact with colleagues – old and new – who are excited by the potential of this new role/path I’m taking up.

      Ah. I need a cup of tea….

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