These seem to be days of challenge. My evening of preparing today’s blog post was derailed after I received an email from someone which triggered significant confusion. Zen Dot Studio wonderfully noted it was the Dharma calling me. I am grateful for such friends who are mindful bells of my practice. Writing the response challenged me to remember that practice manifests in taking responsibility. There is one level of responsibility which is admission and ownership. We are overwhelmed at this time in Zen circles with the drama of Eido Shimano’s behaviours and the slipperiness of admission and ownership. In our personal lives, I’m sure we are all familiar with other styles of slipperiness. Certainly, I catch myself slithering around evidence of my lack of skillfulness. And it, thankfully, doesn’t end there. When the slip-sliding comes to a stop, I’m still left with the responsibility of examining the causes of my actions. In an exchange that pre-dated the email I received, I had admitted that while I thought I had said X, I accepted that this person clearly heard Y. Given the relationship was more important than nailing down who said what, I agreed to meet their needs based on their perception of the arrangement.
And now, I’m asked to re-visit the miscommunication. This person wants to know if it was because I was tired. Or maybe I was stressed? Or forgetful? Perhaps it was a change in my perception of our roles that I didn’t convey to them? Could I please tell them so that they could understand why this happened. I truly resonate with this need to know. I often feel there is magic in knowledge. If I can untangle the causal chain of events then somehow I will feel better. Or I will be able to prevent it from happening again. Or I will find out it wasn’t me after all. Or I will become more intimate with you. Dogen’s wonderful words arise for me: Not-knowing is the most intimate. Emptiness as form is one possible approach. In counterpoint, Grace Shireson, on her Facebook commentary about the Shimano/ZSS debacle noted that too much emptiness is a dangerous thing. If I consign everything to the extreme interpretation of quantum mechanics, I’ll never get on an elevator. (I desperately need to point out that the misuse of theoretical physics is the most annoying aspect of Neo-Buddhism!)
But this desire to know is also an appropriate line of examination in the context of the second turning of the wheel for the First Noble Truth. Thich Nhat Hanh, in The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching calls it “Encouragement,” a confusing label which took me several reads to sort out.
After recognizing and identifying our pain, we take the time to look deeply into it in order to understand its true nature, which means causes (italics added).
His metaphor of a physician’s diagnostic protocol implies that we should run checks or tests to bring out patterns of events and actions that underlie – or encourage – the suffering. As we do this, we begin to know our suffering, we become familiar with its way of presenting itself to us – or perhaps, more accurately, we become more familiar with the way we present in its clutches. It seemed to me, as I dug into this gem, that the intention I set in wanting to know is crucial to the process. Needing to know so that I can package away a set of behaviours or fit them into my world-view is different from needing to know so that I can take ownership and responsibility for them.
It doesn’t stop there. We’ve learned tragically in last few days following the shootings in Arizona that the words we use directly effect the outcome of our inquiry. We’ve always known this – from communication theories to therapeutic interventions. We known that words paint and taint responses. It stands to reason that the words I use to inquire into the true nature of my suffering will have the same impact on its trajectory. Words that are blaming or shaming, pigeon-holing or double-binds will narrow our vision and set off a line of (inner or outer) defensive posturing. Words that are open and curious are more likely to invite willing inquiry. Such skillful speech is our choice, but definitely encouraged by our intention.
Intention and skillful speech. A potent combination to digging deep into the ways I create my own suffering – and those of others.
Thank you for practising,