I am in Ireland on vacation with my family. I have been taking what I call a well-deserved vacation. I have been busy with other aspects of my life since around the beginning of August. What has surprised me the most is that after about 6 weeks of “other things” besides my work as a Priest, I miss the Sangha. I miss Zen. I miss the quiet root and anchor my Sangha life gives me.
Before this break, I had been feeling very rebellious and anti-Zen. What good is it? After all these years of trying to change my life through Zen practice, I end up with nothing! Not only nothing but a deep exhaustion from doing service and trying to live up to the rituals and forms which are the expression of a formal Zen practice. Like all human minds, my mind swung from one extreme to the opposite. Now, perhaps, I thought, free from form and ritual, I can just live my life! But if I “just live my life” too far away from sangha, I go back into a state of mind that has meaninglessness at its core.
How do we deal with “nothing” and “nothing that is something!” How do we bring nothing and something together? How do we bring effort and no-effort together. The unending koan that arises in my life. How do I reconcile the effort of trying to change my life with non-doing or the instruction to relax!.
So what has been surprising to me, is, after “escaping back into my life away from sangha”, I end up knowing why I need the processes or forms of Zen again. Underneath all these stories of daily life, and the endless talking, and karmic habits of life, in order to find peace which i deeply want, I must reconnect over and over with the silent inexpressable “suchness” for a lack of a better word. This suchness or as-is-ness, (what I called “nothing”), when I am aware of it, helps me live more thoroughly the human life and perhaps even to live the human life with acceptance, compassion and peace. My koan- how can I stay in contact with suchness with form and without form. How is this done with ease which will help me become less strained and tired with “serving others”?
Right now, in Ireland, I am in a Downton-Abbey-type estate at a destination wedding of my husband’s nephew. There is complete beauty, indulgence and abundance here. It is gorgeous! Grounds groomed by gardeners, Irish linen sheets, gorgeous furniture, delicious expensive meals and chocolate fudge on your pillow at night. Even still, amidst all this beauty, I can feel the suffering of human life in people’s stories and faces, and this same suffering in myself.
As I sat in meditation outside in the formal garden, I missed my sangha and the zen ritual which is a expression of life’s forms and suchness merging together. With Zen, I can breathe in the life that is larger then me and penetrate into what is really happening beneath our talking and analytical mind. This allows me to get closer to the suffering inherent in human life without judgement. I can change my mental attitude through meditation. On this vacation, I have been sitting with the 4 tetrads of the foundation of mindfulness. I hold the instruction in my hand and reading them over and over to help me concentrate, while I sit in different spaces and different gardens throughout my trip. When I get to the portion on stabilizing and cessating the mind, no matter what is happening, I come back to a different attitude towards all my stories and i feel surprising relief.
I missed going to sesshin at Hokyoji this season, where I deeply experience life in its most naked form.
So again I see, if I allow myself to just go along forever in my stories for too long, my life starts to appear as it did before I began practice – as meaningless and superficial. The hungry ghosts within me with their unending cravings for pleasure starts to roar up again. The antidote is a simple matter of turning the light within, and entering the quiet truths of life. Entering the dharma gate of this moment, I can find peace and touch in on the joy of our true nature. However, i have to take the time, the gentle discipline to do this- to stop the movement of the world and sit. This refreshment is deeply necessary, and so, I begin again. In Ireland, In Minneapolis, in Tokyo.