Last night was community night for WiG, as well as the night before Thanksgiving. It seemed like a great time to revisit an old koan, in fact the koan we sat with last year for Thanksgiving:
Once upon a time there was a young man who was deeply unhappy. He had many good things in his life but they didn’t help. When he was at the end of his tether he heard about a teacher who was supposed to be good with hopeless cases and he made the journey to see her.
“I am very unhappy,” he said. “I’m too restless to sit still and do a spiritual practice and I’m too selfish to practice compassion and service. I reach for what I want but when I get it, I’m not happy, and I’m always looking out for the next thing. I don’t have a clue where to turn. But I’m told that you deal with hopeless cases so perhaps you can help me. You are my last resort.”
“I’m glad you came,” she said. “I might be able to help but you will have to agree to do what I ask.”
“Why don’t you tell me?” he said “and I’ll decide if it will work for me.”
“Oh no,” she said, “The deal is that you agree to do what I say and then I tell you what you must do. There is no other way.”
He hemmed and hawed and went back and forth and finally surrendered and said, “OK I’ll do it, but I won’t do it forever.”
So she said, “Try it for a year and let me know.”
She said nothing.
“OK,” he said, “Give it to me.”
“I’ll give you the practice I do myself. Whenever anything appears in my mind or appears in the world, I say ‘Thank you very much I have no complaintswhatsoever.”
“That’s all? That’s it? That’ll never work for me!”
“You agreed. For a year. Off you go now. Thank you very much I have nocomplaints whatsoever.”
So he left and she more or less forgot about him.
Then a year passed and he asked for an interview and arrived in her room.
“It’s as I suspected, I knew it would never work for me, I’m still just as unhappy and selfish as I ever was.”
Immediately she said, “Thank you very much I have no complaints whatsoever.”
With her words, he felt an eruption in his chest and began to laugh and immediately understood what she meant and laughed and laughed and laughed and his happiness didn’t subside though it did become quieter after some months. “Thank you very much,” he told people, “I have no complaints whatsoever.”
Then we walked. Then we sat and played a game. Frankly gratitude boors me a bit. Its played out. I find complaining much more interesting. It seems like culturally we are taught to ignore complaints. To find silver linings. To not complain. To solve them, to avoid them, to get over them. Interesting.
So, for our game we took a little time and found a complaint. A real, personal, immediate complaint. Then we were invited to sit with that complaint like a koan. To hold it with respect and care. To listen to it. Listen to the noise an emotions around that complaint. Notice the stories, their energy. We sat fora few minutes, just hanging out with a complaint. Then the bell was rung and we each were invited,via the Zen Cricket (if you don't know,don't ask. Needless to say, I find it funny), to share something we noticed about that time.
A: That the complaint was old, hurt like a bruise, but still invited fixing.
B: That she had a complaint that carried with her all the way to practice. And interestingly, that it involved "good" things.
C: Swirling complaints that felt real, but pressed, she could not get them to settle down enough to look at just one.
D: Work. 5 years old that complaint. Perhaps it wasn't work that was the problem?
E: Like a slot machine,spinning complaints, landing,opening up,never right, never solveable.
F: Pain. Thinking that his complaint was the best complaint, only to hear everyone else speak and realize how good humans are at suffering.
G: A little extra weight and a little too little hair. For years complaining. But for years,nothing changing. Sitting, he say himself in the mirror and simply thought "I don't look like I thought I looked"
H: Politics. Legal implications of promises. Free speech. Big emotions and feelings of persecution following them
I: Weariness. How the complaining was like coffee- unpleasant but stimulatory. Fear that he would not be at his best,able to connect, or able to seize opportunities.
To close, we took 30 second to turn to our complaint and just say: Thank you.I can only speak for myself, but the experience was very powerful. All my life,trying to fix or disspell complaints and now I could just thank it for making me human. And notice how all my complaints were so alike.
After practice, we turned the altar into a buffet table, and had a Thanksgiving potluck.Wine, cheese,Jelly Bellys, berries,home mademuffins, cookies, olives, tea, pickles, candied walnuts, bread, chocolate. Everyone stayed. T brought her daughter, F, who cooed and cried and slept. I brought C, who stomped and giggled and rolled.
It was a good night. Thank you all.I have no complaints whatsoever.
“A Course on Koans” is the delusion-riddled work of Chris Kufu (“Wind in the Void”) Wilson, who began practicing Zen in 1967. He regards Taizan Maezumi, Robert Aitken, and David Weinstein as his root teachers. Each of them pecked at his shell until he “completed” the never-ending koan curriculum of the Harada-Yasutani lineage.
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