I sometimes think that one of the greatest disappointments human beings face is
the realization that the life they chose is not the life they any longer want to
lead. So much energy and effort and sacrifice went into whatever the goal once
was. Money, job, family, distant lands, intelligence, a new car … all of it once
felt so open and free and satisfying. Now, the trap snaps shut and the old
saying, “be careful what you pray for, you may just get it” takes on a sharpened
This life may be “OK” in a
certain sense – certainly there are moments of pleasure and satisfaction – but
the once-imagined joy, the freedom and security that beckoned are not quite
right. Things feel stale and confining and splintered, a strait jacket that once
looked like wings. There are good moments to be sure, but something is missing.
Worse, this all may have happened more than once. And worst of all may be the
realization that there is no one to blame but myself.
Actually, coming to such a
realization, however cloying it may feel, is quite a good thing. Think of the
people who spend their whole lives trying to
make someone or something else responsible for where and who they are. Further,
it is precisely such a realization that can encourage a willingness to do
something about it. And further still, there are skills that have accumulated:
We know what DOESN’T work – the many things that only lead back to the old
circle of dreams that turn into strait jackets.
The willingness to do
something about it. Is there some way to settle matters and if so what is that
As a first step there has
to be some examination of the situation. So i took a
vacation. What is the nature of this beast?
What is it that leads from joy to sorrow and back again, from a sense of
wholeness to a sense of fragmentation and back again? It doesn’t seem to work
when I lay my problems and pleasures at someone else’s doorstep, so I examine my
With some examination,
things grow a bit clearer. Isn’t it my own habits, built up over a lifetime,
that seem to guide these steps. And what are those habits? Looking as closesly
as possible, I find that those wily Buddhists weren’t too far wrong: Greed,
anger and folly, spliced together with attachments to each, are forceful indeed.
I want what I want when I want it, but have I really taken the time to examine
who this “I” is? The answer comes back, no I haven’t. I have assumed I know who
I am and acted accordingly. If I dream it, it must be so. Since it doesn’t turn
out “so,” something is out of whack.
Examining further, I
discover change, a matter about which I was capable of saying a great deal but
incapable of really acknowledging in my heart or actualizing in my life. If I
acknowledge change in the deepest possible way, where would that leave “Me?"…
you know, the “me” with dreams and staleness, with joy and strait jackets, the
one who is the same from one day to the next, the one others call “man” or
“woman,” “kind” or “unkind,” “tall” or “short,” “wise” or “deluded,” “father” or
“mother,” “rich” or “poor?” Without the handholds, where would “I” be? On the
other hand, WITH the handholds, where has it gotten “me?”
Without the handholds is
scary. With the handholds is unsatisfactory. This examining business leads to
some tight and fiery places. Sometimes there is a desire to fall back into a
realm of blaming and crediting others, of being full of perfect dreams that
dissolve on contact, of a sure-footed “me” who succeeds and fails… bring on the
Tooth Fairy or God or Easter Bunny or magic bullet! But there is no going back
for those who take their examinations seriously. Stopping before the examination
is over – falling into old reliable ways of finding the one sure answer – is a
fool’s mission, a zealot’s delight. There is only one direction – forward.
It takes courage and
patience and doubt. Change is everywhere and always and examining its furthest
reaches is the task at hand. Breath after breath, day after day, week after
week, year after year. Talk is cheap. Examination is expensive … examination
will rob you deaf, dumb and blind. But as we came into the world penniless and
naked, so pennilessness and nakedness are not so bad. When there is nothing to
buy, why buy it? How could we don what we already have on? Doesn’t the sun feel
good against this naked skin?
I heard that Soen Roshi,
my teacher’s teacher, once stood before a group of Zen students and asked, “Do
you want to see what a bodhisattva looks like?” And he proceeded to strip down
to his skivvies. Layer after layer of robes … down to his skivvies, at which
point he said something like, “there are some things even a bodhisattva doesn’t
Layer after layer is
examined. Layer after layer is set aside. Layer after layer of comfort and
What we keep on and what
we take off is entirely our responsibility. Not taking responsibility leads to
dissatisfaction. Taking responsibility … well, it’s like skinny dipping –
doesn’t that feel better? And being naked, how would it be possible to fail?
There… doesn’t the sun
feel good against this naked skin?
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