Every now and then, I have to let go of my ideas of “Zen” or enlightenment. Over the years, I build up a construction of what I think enlightenment is or what I think practice is and then I bump into something else which breaks that idea open. I don’t particularly like these transitions in my spiritual life because I often feel lost, disorganized or discombobulated. I aspire to be more comfortable with “not knowing.”
Gradually over the years, I have begun to know enlightenment not as a “thing,” a “state” or even something to “know”, but as the process or path itself. This is a great change; from endgame to process, from achievement to experience. To be alive in the present moment requires that I drop off my judgments, evaluations, and preferences about the present moment and just be. This asks me to welcome all “present moments” no matter what my opinion of the content of the present moment is.
Studying “Radical Acceptance” by Tara Brach and “Insight Dialogue” by Greg Kramer with the two classes this fall, has enhanced this understanding. Both books have shined the light on the “how” of being in “the continuous knowing of the stream of experience without gripping onto our stories.”
We may have an insight in deep concentration of spacious, unbounded openness or “no-mind” but it is using that insight day-to-day that is the manifestation of enlightenment. Can we become more familiar with having an open, relaxed, welcoming of the moment, exactly as it is, without wishing for it to be otherwise? This is the radical in radical acceptance.
In order for this to be so, we have to find the integration of form and emptiness as one. We need to have a taste of the openness of formless awareness but we can’t ignore the “skin bag” of our human life and its karma. In Shih-t’ou’s “Grass Roof Hermitage” poem, Shih-t’ou writes: “If you want to know the Undying Man in his hermitage, you must not leave your own bag of skin.” If you want to know unbounded awareness, you must not, or cannot, leave the form of the present moment. You have to welcome it.
From Tara Brach: Under the title, “Realizing our nature as both emptiness and love.”
“We can be tempted, sometimes in pursuit of nonattachment, to distance ourselves from the messy wildness of our bodies and emotions and from our relationships with each other. The pulling away leaves us in a disembodied daydream that is not grounded in awareness of our living world. On the other hand, if we immerse ourselves in the mental dramas and changing emotions of our lives without remembering the empty, wakeful awareness that is our original nature, we get lost in the nightmare of identifying as a separate, suffering self.”
Working with these two sides of life is the razor’s edge of our practice and is our enlightenment. It is the edge of the moment. This interweaving brings us out of the suffering of our stories but doesn’t abandon them. We work with our lives, holding them with Radical Acceptance and compassion in a huge field of universal perspective.