In this blog, I want to explore the difference between meditating on the river bank and jumping into the river of life.
an old friend
I went for a walk with an old friend. Actually she has not been my friend for very long, but no one can deny she is an older woman. When we first met, the look in her eyes made quite an impression on me. I told myself she had perfected this inquisitive look because she was a doctor, but I have found there is more to it than that. Her eyes spoke of a perfect willingness to see what is there, however ugly it might be.
I told her about my experiences with Nietzsche. She was familiar with the concept of amor fati and she thought it was great news. “I can see you doing that,” she said. “I would urge you to go on with it.” But of herself, she said: “I think I can find the things you mention in zen.”
So we explored zen, together. She told me that she could easily relate to the Asian vocabulary that is used by zen practitioners. And to the Asian cultural outlook. (I will not specify what I mean by that. As many of you know Zen has Chinese and Japanese roots and if you compare it to Western philosophy, you will notice an all-pervading Asian flavour.)I have lived in Asia with an Asian partner and at the time I totally immersed myself in that. Ever since, there is this occasional Heimweh related to Asian foods and smells. I learned a lot about good manners, I became more dignified in a way, but I never managed to become anything like an Asian woman.
Looking back at my adventures, I would say my sanguine temperament was my main problem.
“You have a lot of feelings, don’t you?” my old friend asked.
“Yes,” I said. “I do.”
Ever since being very young, I have somehow felt there was too much of me. Too many feelings, too much energy and way too many questions.
I told my friend how I had struggled with my intense experiences. First by trying to wear myself out to reach a state of relaxation. I even stayed up nights just to feel the joys of being tired instead of being ravenously hungry for knowledge and sensations. Next, I tried to hide my feelings because I thought that was needed to become a stable person. I found they festered and soured me. I then looked for other people to provide the discipline I seemed to lack. Living with my army-sergeant partner sapped my energy so much that I started to feel positively meek. It was not a happy feeling.
In the end, meditation was helpful in finding a new way to deal with the turmoil in my head. For the first time, I realised I could experience feelings as bodily sensations. Nothing more.
I realised I still had a choice on whether I should act on them.
This was a very important insight for me. I still use it on a daily basis.
I went to live in a zen monastery to find out more. And I adapted. My being there was appreciated by the other women. They were genuinely surprised about me having all these thoughts and feelings. My experience of life was not at all familiar to them.
I picture the nuns sitting on a riverbank, in a half-lotus. They are forever practicing zen, sitting straight but still, letting their breath flow and the sensations go right through them. The gurgling and bubbling of the water, the gentle wind on their cheeks, the shriek of a passing bird. To sit there, not even being a sounding board. Patiently working to take the self out of the equation.
One of my schoolteachers has this fond memory of me. We were going on a school camp and we got lost. We were all on our bikes, riding on the beach, when the wind started blowing and the rain came gushing down. The combination of the leaden sky in a sulphur yellow light and the foaming sea waters got some children scared. Others complained they were cold and hungry. Some wanted their mothers. The teacher did his best to keep us all together and hurry us along because he knew things would get worse after dark. He finally reached the front of the group and there I was, pedalling away. Tangled wet hair blowing in all directions, leaning back on the saddle and throwing one arm into the air from sheer enthusiasm. I was completely in the moment. Never noticed him at all. Right before that, there had been a little voice in my head that said:
“I never knew you could do this! I am riding my bike on the beach in a thunderstorm. Wind is raging so much I could not shout if I tried. Getting completely soaked. It’s like flying!”
I can easily accept zen being the answer for my friend. In fact, I can see how it makes a difference for her. But I tried zen as a means to get to know reality. Zen promised me the moon, instead of fingers pointing at it. These days, I think the moon, as seen by me, from the earth, is really all that matters. So I have come to the end of my personal path in zen.
In answer to a question asked by bloggingisaspresponsibility.
Comments are invited and there is no need to agree with me on anything I said.