I’m not sure why gardening gloves would be called Karma but I bought a pair. And perhaps that is my karma; always dragging myself around from one bright, shining object to another. No wonder I’m frequently fatigued and frustrated. Or frantic and fearful. No, I think it’s more like indecisive and irritated.
Well, as I write this, I am certainly feeling indecisive and irritated. It’s cloudy and the delivery of the newly purchased lawn mower is delayed – threatening clouds holding the overgrown lawn hostage. I want to get out to the vegetable garden and clean it up. It’s one of the last pieces of the gardens that needs attention. But I’m torn between doing paperwork (it is cloudy after all) and weeding. What if I did one and neglecting the other has serious consequences? What if I did the other and neglecting… no wait… that’s the same question!
It happens frequently. I think I’m asking good questions, analyzing the best approach to something but really I’m just stuck in this split, wanting an answer I can live with, one that confirms my worldview and belief system, something that isn’t going to be demanding in its corollaries. That would be too frightening. And when I’m most fearful, I tend to become most dogmatic. This is the moment when I am vulnerable to zen sickness: there is no decision, no decision-maker, no garden, no paperwork. I’m starting to see that the most insidious of my cravings is the desire to annihilate reality because it, too often, confirms my limited self.
Joko Beck (Everyday Zen) writes about the “Bottleneck of Fear,” the way in which we contract our lives down to a limited view of ourselves. We are all subject to being conditioned to protect ourselves however we derive meaning about who we are from the conditioning.
The bottleneck of fear isn’t caused by the conditioning, but by the decision about myself I have reached based on that conditioning.
I am conditioned to value efficiency and efficacy. These are the cornerstones of my identity; they are the twin deities of my personal religion. Split between decisions – even if they are those of low-threat as paperwork and gardening – triggers a gut level response which Joko points out is my best teacher. Bringing awareness to that gut-clenching illuminates the fear and sheds light on the falsehood of my limited self. But it takes practice not just sitting around waiting for that understanding to emerge from the murky depths of my multi-layered delusion state.
Joko does something fascinating with this idea of practice. She points out our eagerness to go to Hui-Neng’s verse that raised him to be the Sixth Patriarch: “there is no mirror-stand, no mirror to polish, and no place where dust can cling…” Sure. If our vision is clear in the first place. But usually it isn’t; clouded by the cravings, desires, preferential states and deceptive actions, how can we get past the dust, let alone find the mirror!
It’s a paradox, Joko writes. We need to understand the Sixth Patriarch’s words but we need to practice with the verse that was not accepted by the Fifth Patriarch.
This body is the Bodhi tree;
The mind is a mirror bright:
Carefully cleanse them hour by hour,
And let no dust alight.
(W)hen we fail to see clearly, we create merry mayhem for ourselves and others. We do have to practice, we do have to polish the mirror, until we know in our guts the truth of our life. Then we can see that from the very beginning, nothing was needed. Our life is always open and spacious and fruitful. But let’s not fool ourselves about the amount of sincere practice we must do before we see this as clearly as the nose on our face.