Tonight we played a game. A Zen game. There were eleven of us, and it went like this.
While we sat, the koan was spoken into the room. I am actually not at all certain this is a koan. I am certain I mangled it. I am certain because I did it intentionally.
"Two men walked down a road. A portion of it was washed out by a river. A child was standing at the edge the waters to deep for her to cross. Without thinking one man scooped her up, and waded across. On the other side, he deposited the child and the two men resumed their walk. Miles later, the second man turned to the first and complained, 'why did you just pick that child up? Who gave you the right? What if you had slipped or fallen? Who asked you?' to which the other man replied 'I put her down miles ago, why haven't you?'"
Here is another telling:
"Two monks, going to a neighbouring monastery, walked side by side in silence. They arrived at a river they had to cross. That season, waters were higher than usual. On the bank, a young woman was hesitating and asked the younger of the two monks for help. He exclaimed, 'Don't you see that I am a monk, that I took a vow of chastity?'
'I require nothing from you that could impede your vow, but simply to help me to cross the river,' replied the young woman with a little smile.
'I...not...I can...do nothing for you,' said the embarrassed young monk.
'It doesn't matter,' said the elderly monk. 'Climb on my back and we will cross together.'
Having reached the other bank, the old monk put down the young woman who, in return, thanked him with a broad smile. She left her side and both monks continued their route in silence. Close to the monastery, the young monk could not stand it anymore and said, 'You shouldn't have carried that person on your back. It's against our rules.'
'This young woman needed help and I put her down on the other bank. You didn't carry her at all, but she is still on your back,' replied the older monk."
I thought the notion of a helpless woman was a bit offensively outdated as well as monks with vows of chastity being unnecessarily distant. So I changed it. Revisionism- the benefit of leading the group for the night. But I digress.
We played a game. It went like this.
There was a short introduction. Zen foreplay. I described how this notion was fresh and interesting to me today, and how I noted that while Zen practice often led one to greater freedom and happiness, initially most people experienced greater clutter and misery as they became more intimate with their experiences. And one of the things I had noticed was a hording of thoughts and problems and things, without surfeit. The interesting thing was how Zen helps us create space by putting some of those stories down, so that we could hear our hearts and receive nourishment. tonight we would look at that.
We took a minute to find a burden we were carrying. A thought, a worry a decision, expectations a pain, a hope. The bell was rung and people were asked to put their attention on WHY we picked that burden up in the first place.
Answers were varied- a sense of duty, a sense of rightness, a lack of trust that we knew what to do, a need for inspiration and motivation. Some people were sad, some we giddy. Someone mentioned how carrying burdens was in their nature.
Next, we rang the bell and asked, "how does it feel to carry that burden and how does the idea of putting it down feel, right now?"
People noted how the burden was mixed up in identity. Acknowledged fear that by putting it down they would be lost, or that other problems would just take its place. Others noted it was heavy and hard and sad and painful. Someone described realizing that they carried a burden of expectation and once they did, they realized their motives were not as pure as they had thought. Many people mentioned that the idea of putting it down was exhilarating but frightening. exciting, but unknown.
It was a great night and I have severely truncated my recollections because its waaay past my bedtime. But thanks to all who came and dove in the deep end.
Strangely, I thought it would be easier to find a picture of a staff. Anyway...
So, community night and after C drive everyone nuts runing around and playing in the altar water, we played a game in three parts. Not a great game, but a game.
We sat with the Koan:
"If you have a staff, I will give you a staff. If you lack a staff, I will take a staff from you".
So the bell was rung, and people were asked to find a missing staff...something they told themselves they lacked and needed. After some time, it was instructed to drop in that this was merely a story we are telling ourselves and see how that changed our relationship with it.
People noticed softening, and a suspension of belief. One person noticed that they felt sad and anxious about letting go of the story. Another noted that she could not let go, but rather tried to let go of believing she could not let go. Someone else noted how she could not let it go until she had let it shrink to the size of other thoughts.
Then we rang the bell and sat with our staffs.Things we deemed a boon or a positive, and were asked how it felt when we were aware of them, and how it felt when we left awareness of them.
People noticed a warm happy feeling,which dissapeared when their mind was distracted.More than one person found that they couldn't stop thinking of their "deficiencies". Others noted that their attention was without stories and they just enjoyed it.
Finally, people were asked to sit. and while sitting to turn their attention to...the buddha on the altar. The candle. The ache in their legs. What did they notice? Was awareness accompanied by stories? For the mostpart yes. As people dwealt on an object, they were filled with stories. Buddha is an offensive spiritual reference, his hair looks strange and unreal, he looks peaceful, my legs hurt, this is familiar, I can't hold this, This candle puts me in the mind of my youth, etc etc etc.
We are, maybe, story making machines. And maybe the Zen path isn't about cutting off or "improving" those stories, but accepting their inevitability and their humanness with kindness and compassion and awareness. Somewhere then, there is a choice, and freedom and space to just let it be, and go on our merry way.As John Tarrant likes to say- perhaps our thoughts are none of our business.
David Weinstein discusses the precept of not abusing sex. So we have our first sex talk on the blog:
Koan practice is integral to rinzai Zen and at the heart of Pacific Zen Institute approach to awakening.
But how special are they really? And if they are special, are the unique and which properties make them special? That they are old? That they are Chinese? That people kick things and shout?
John Tarrant likes to say "A koan is a story that transforms you". Ok. Good start. But has this been put to rigorous analysis? Probably not. So what would make a good Zen game...you see where I am going with this?
This question came to me while sitting: What is the opposition of a story that transforms you? I figured, a story that does not transforms you. That leaves you mired the way you are. So, for tonight's experiment, we used one of those stories, and treated it like a koan. There was no hypothesis, or controls, or comparative analysis. That is all to say the scientific method was kept safely away from our lab, and that is probably right as the meditative path is seldom linear, but all the same, this was some interesting &^$%.
We were instructed to find a tired old story. Any one. "I am too disorganized. I cannot do my job right because I lack follow through. I will never accomplish anything because I doubt myself. I am unlovable because ___. " Whatever. We all have them. Find one that makes you suffer. Then condense it to a one sentence phrase. A slogan. We were instructed not to try to fix it, or make it more or less true, or to worry about whether it was true. Just notice what came up around it.
We rang the bell, and were invited to treat that as our koan.
Then we passed the Zen cricket and discussed our experience.
Like I said, interesting &*$%.
A: My mind was going too fast and I couldn't find one, then I realized that was my koan and I realized I sit with that one a lot and refuse to look at it.
B: It was really powerful. For me it was a fear of getting older. Sitting with it for the first time and just letting it be there. I noticed my fear, but it seemed further away. Like I was watching it. I realized that if I read a story about a girl who was afraid of getting older, I would like her and feel interested. I am going to sit with this more.
C: I thought about it like a koan. At first, I didn't like it. I thought, "this is a &*^ty koan. Then I realized my mind was trying to find ways to demonstrate it, like I was going to present it to David.
D: It was intense. I realized how much time I spend avoiding this story. And then I looked at it, and realized it wasn't as bad as I had thought.
E: It actual felt quite light hearted. I was a bit concerned that my problem didn't seem important. Then I realized that it just didn't seem like a big deal when I wasn't tasked with solving it.
F: I noticed that when I treated it like a koan, I trusted I would know what to do when the time came to do something, and it just disappeared. and I sat. and only later did it reappear at the end of the period.
G: I found it really disturbing. My mind rebelled at giving respect to a story that had caused me so much pain. It didn't want to welcome it at all.
H: I noticed how I had a few stories, before my mind settled on one. that my mind was too busy to get anything productive out of meditation. I noticed how when that was my koan, the edges softened and the story was defanged. It was something I was seeing with a little distance, and it was just something I was telling myself. I wasn't anymore sure at all how true it was.
I: I used the story about how everyone would leave me. then I noticed how hard I work not to look at that. And when I sat with it, it seemed more forgivable to feel that way.
Thanks everyone who joined tonight. It was a great evening.
So we played a little Zen game a few weeks ago and I want to capture it here before it completely dissolves through the sieve my brain is become.
So, I gave a little context. One of the thing that I have noticed, and that I like about meditation, is that we have created a little fraternity of suffering. No not of suffering, but of honesty about that suffering- all people suffer (I am too fat, too skinny, not assertive enough, my parents didn't support me enough, I am a crappy lawyer, my nick hurts, my back hurts, my mind is a mess etc etc etc).
Anyway, it seems like there are at least two things you can do about suffering. Focus on something else, or look into it. There are many practices for focusing on something else: Yoga, breath meditations, working long hours, drinking, visualization, running, etc. They have their place.
Then there are practices of looking into the suffering. Therapy is one, though I think it asks "What about this story? Where did it come from? Why do I feel that way". But then, I am not a therapist. Zen also looks at suffering. That is what we do at WiG, just welcome it in, and pay attention to it. We don't try ot solve it, resovle it, or calm it...except that of course people do. And that is interesting to notice also.
So the game.
We sat three times. The first time I simply asked people to sit, then to calm and still their minds, though whatever means they thought fitting. Watch your breath, imagine a cloudless sky, imagine an elevator. Whatever. Then the group was asked to raise one finger when a thought managed to enter in anyway. I think the first was about 5 seconds later. One person lasted 2 seconds.
So there you go. Thoughts are natural. I mean, its kind of a weird fantasy to want to be without them. The mind thinks, the heart beats, the lungs breath. No one is trying to stop their hearts from beating, why put so much emphasis on our thoughts?
So we sat again, again encouraged to suppress thoughts. This time, people were asked to notice what means the used and how they felt when a thought did arise.
Then we talked about that. I recall some people used breath counting, some, noticing their bodies, others letting go of thoughts, others imagining a stream. More interestingly, people reacted with guilt, shame, frustration, a sense of loss, failure, fear of missing something, a lost opportunity when the thoughts did arise and they noticed they had. Weird huh?
The last time we sat, everyone was told that we were going on a hunting expedition. We were going to look for this ^&% *&(* mind of ours. the one giving us all these problems. find it, locate it, pull it up by the roots.
People were invited to notice where the throughts were physically, in whose voice they were, what they wanted, what emotions were driving them, etc etc etc.
Now it got interesting. People noticed the past one one side, present on the other. That the closer they got to this mind, the more dissipated it was, dispersed, and ultimately empty. Some noticed how their mind bucked, and shut them out. Or went blank when they got near something painful.
Tricky little bastard that mind.
What fund. Don't you wish you were there?
Most good Dharma talks include mice OR spiders. This one has both.