In which the lessons circle ’round again
I originally wrote and posted this on August 10, 2012 – nine years ago. (Oh, time, you elusive beast… )
Re-read it today, August 10, 2021, and it was just as relevant today for me personally as it was 9 years ago. Reading it amused, delighted and enchanted me so I thought I’d post it here. I hope you enjoy it. xo
I’ve been reading this book entitled, “Zen and the Art of Falling in Love” by Brenda Shoshana.
Before I get too far into this note, let me clear 2 things up.
I am not a Zen Buddhist.
And, I am not by any means, an authority on it. I am drawn by the simplicity of the teachings, and the ease in which those teachings integrate into my life.
I am not currently in love.
Which poses a problem when the book calls for the reader to examine their current relationship. Since I am not in one, I look behind me. What I see is a trail of hurt and disappointment that looks more like a massacre than the signs of great romance. (Hence, the need to approach this whole love thing from another point of view entirely…)
In that infuriatingly simple way that can only be Zen, the book teaches beautifully simple lessons.
The first lesson is to not move.
In zazen (Zen meditation practice) you sit on your cushion, without moving, until the bell rings. Whatever happens during the sitting, within and without, you are to maintain your posture.
It’s an exercise in letting go of control, allowing life to flow as it will.
Taken on with this new found Zen focus, I found the sitting to be surprisingly difficult. So many things tried to catch my attention, and pull me away from the practice. I am no stranger to meditation, as I have been actively meditating for about 6 years now. Even with the prior experience, approaching mediation with the intention of sitting fully, what choice did the distractions have but do their job? They distracted me like pros.
The next lesson.When it is time to walk, walk.
The bell rings, and the Zazen is over. It seems to me, that as soon as I find my groove, as soon as I drop down into that deep place of silence, the bell rings. It jars me back to life, inevitably to responsibilities that I’d much rather ignore. But when the time comes to move, no matter how we feel inside, we must move.
The deeper teaching is showing us that we can often become attached to one state of being, one activity or one relationship. We cling on to it long after the bell has rung. All things move and change and progress. If I could give my relationships that kind of freedom to progress according to their own timetables, how much better would it be for everyone involved?
When walking, the Zen instructions are simple, “Follow each step attentively.”
Following each step attentively means to be with what is happening at the moment 100%. Not in the past, not in the future. Only now. And only 100%
I thought about this for quite a while, but felt I had no real practical application for it. No context, if you will.
So life gave me a lesson.
I took my book to the beach the other day.
I sat reading, meditating, and contemplating the beauty and majesty before me. I was able to sit on the crowded beach for 30 minutes, with my eyes open, in a meditative state. I was taking it all in, and it was a beautiful moment. My phone alarm rang, my 30 minutes was over. It was time to move. I opted to take a photo, so as to remember the moment.
There was a man approaching. He reminded me of David Lynch. (who is one of my favorite people, but I digress). David Lynch or not, this man was in my way. I wanted to take a photo of the ocean, but this guy just wouldn’t move! Begrudgingly I set my phone down and started to pack up my things. Then I realized he was coming to talk to me.
He walked up and asked if I wanted to play smashball. I had never heard of it before; apparently it’s like tennis, but on the beach. The Zen teachings flashed in my mind, and I knew that the next step I needed to take was to learn to play this game. But first I asked him to move, so I could take my picture of the ocean.
The game wasn’t easy at first. I was terrible at it, but enthusiastically terrible. He gave me some quick instructions to improve my game, and it did for a while. We played for about 4 hours that day. In that time, I learned that if I focused only on the ball and the paddle in my hand, I hit it every time. Not only did I hit it every time, but its aim was straight and there was a rhythm to the exchange. So simple, I thought.
And, true to form, as soon as my attention wavered, the ball did, too.
As the ball came towards me, I thought to myself, “focus! focus! focus” but I kept missing!
After 20 minutes of missing, hitting tourists, and getting hit in the neck myself, I finally realized it wasn’t about thinking about focusing, it was about doing the focusing.
Focus. And the rhythm came back.
He gave me other tips, as well.
He pointed out that I have no faith. (To which I laughed, but it’s actually kinda true…)
The ball goes into the ocean – he tells me not to chase it, that the waves will bring it in.
That was particularly hard for me to stop doing. I know the waves will come and go, and if there is an object that floats, the waves will bring it in. But I had this knee jerk response that had me running into the waves after a florescent pink smashball time and time again. I think it wasn’t until hour 3 where I finally started trusting and letting the ball come to me.
There was another way I demonstrated my lack of faith. When he hit the ball high in the air, I would jump up as high as I could to hit the ball, when it was already coming towards me. He told me, time and time again that gravity will make certain the ball comes down to me. I just have to be ready for it. I don’t have to work so hard to meet it in the middle. It’s coming to me. My job is to be ready.
But I didn’t want to be ready. I wanted to chase it! Another difficult lesson. I realized that I kind of like the chase. I enjoyed jumping up high into the air to meet that ball and be blinded by the sun. It was thrilling!
Another analogy for love, perhaps? The thrill of the chase… Something to ponder, anyway
Several days have passed since that fun afternoon on the beach. Being able to directly experience some Zen principles has stayed with me all week. I have made a point to be here, now, as much as possible. I have noticed it helps things, and when my attention divides, something always happens to pull me back in. It’s strange.
I was walking around the gallery, cleaning up my art from ArtWalk. My mind was in full chatter mode; drudging up past loves, past mistakes, blaming me, blaming them; around and around it went. I was not fully with my task of taking down my artwork. I was distracted. Suddenly, I kicked something. I looked down, and this is what I saw:
I couldn’t help but laugh out loud. That little guy just radiated the greatest joy!
I looked up the meaning, and this is some of what I found:”The Laughing Buddha symbol is based on the story of a Buddhist monk who lived in the 10th century China. He was a bit too eccentric for a monk, but his heart was loving and open, and in time he came to be loved by many. He is considered a reincarnation of Gautama Buddha (the historical Buddha); and added the often missing energy of light heartedness, joy and laughter to everyday life.”
And also describing what it means to find a laughing Buddha, “when found, it brings the best of luck and gives new life”
Much love and many blessings to you and yours,