Tonight’s game was based on the following koan:
A student asks the teacher “The whole world in the ten directions is a shining pearl, how am I to understand this?”
The teacher replied, “The whole world in the ten directions is a shining pearl, why would you want to understand this?”
Later, the teacher saw the student and asked “The whole world in the ten directions is a shining pearl, how do you understand this?”. The student replied “The whole world in the ten directions is a shining pearl, why would I want to understand this?”
The teacher looked at the student and replied, “now you are truly in a dark cave, full of demons”.
David Weinstein taught to this koan in a one day retreat in Alameda last weekend. In closing, he said “I don’t understand why I love my wife, but I do”. This profoundly touched me, that a dedicated and loving husband, a therapist no less who helps people with their stories, was content to know that he did not understand the source or reason for his love for his wife, and didn’t want to, but knew that he did. I imagined how true that felt and the seed grew into tonight’s game.
During zazen, I spoke into the room “I invite you to give your attention to a discomfort in your body right now. Maybe your ankles hurt, or your knees ache or your shoulders are tense or you have a headache, or you are cold, or you are hungover. Give that feeling attention, and turn into it. Let the stories about how it got there and if you can bear it and what you need to do with it, just fall away. And then, turn into the pain. Be pain.”
After ten more minutes, I introduced the second part of the game. I asked “Now give bring to your attention, a person in your life who brings up strong emotions. Fear, anger, love, lust, hate, envy…and then give your attention to that feeling. Let the stories drop away and let that feeling stand alone. Become a verb, be anger, be lust, be hate, be envy.”
I rang the bell. We walked kinhin and I invited people to invite their pain into their walk. To notice the numbness of their feet, and aching joints. To ache. To limp.
We sat, and passed the zen lotus.
The first pass asked what we noticed about our discomfort.
A: I went first because the whole game was my bad idea and I am not going to ask anyone to do anything I am not willing to do.
What I noticed was that there were so many stories about how much of the pain I could take. For me it was tired. I didn’t sleep much last night, or the one before it. It aches, and burned. My back hurt from it and I jerked with the nervous energy of staying awake. When the stories were laid aside, I noticed that I was not longer so sure that it was hard, or that I could not make it, or even that I was too tired for zazen. I was just tired. Aching, sputtering. And it was fine. I thought it would be unbearable, but when it came to it, there was plenty of room, and it was not even uncomfortable.
B: Noticed that at first, she was unaware of any aches or pains. But when she looked for them, they were there. So thanks for that. Later, she noticed that the little aching pains became tolerable
C: Noticed his knees. His knee that was hurt in an accident. How the story of the accident lingered in the knee and made it hurt before it hurt. How therapy was making it throb, but when it filled his attention, that was not what he expected and was fine.
D: Talked about waiting for a body part to give in. She talked about the stories of which one it would be, and how it eventually dawned on her that just anticipating it, was a pain in itself.
E: Had the most wonderful observation. He noted that though his hip hurt, when he went looking for the pain in his hip, he couldn’t exactly locate it.
F: Noted that her back hurt, low and deep, but when she turned into it, and didn’t tell the usual stories about how it was unbearable, she was not even sure it was painful. It opened up, and was quite tolerable.
We passed the zen lotus again. This time, we talked about what we noticed when we dropped the story about our emotions and were just our emotions.
A: I told a story about laying in bed with a girl. Laying beside her and not being able to sleep. About wanting to hold her and wanting to move away. About wanting to sleep, but heart racing and cold fear jerking me awake. The stories spun around, that night, about why I could not sleep. Oh, commitment issues, care issues, sensitivity to light and noise. It was her fault, my fault, someone else’s fault. But on the cushion, there was just longing toward and away. Caught in a pull and a push. There was nothing wrong with it. It was just stuck.
B: Told of a relationship with a man. Of resentment building, a growing desire for space and the suffocation of spirit. And yet being torn and needing, wanting the relationship. The stories about being right about this, about this being selfish and greedy, all dropped away and there was just torn.
C: Told of his brother, holding him in love, but also afraid for him. That knowing what he should be doing to help, what his brother was doing wrong, got somehow in the way.
D: Told of her husband and long and enduring love, but that occasionally, how, like an arrow, another person would strike her interest, and the cascade of stories and guilt were painful and unbearable. Leaving the stories behind, she noticed that she loved her husband deeply and that there was enough room for longing for another and that that could all be held and part.
E: Told of finding a quiet mind, but after looking for an emotion, finding stories, all kinds of stories, in the way about how to feel and why.
F: Told of cycling through friends looking for a strong emotion, finally settling on her best friend and the sense of contentment and sitting in that soft warmth.
Finally, we played our last hand. A great thanks to Ishara Hudson for her inspiration from her Zen charades game and the peach blossoms koan. Of course, if it all fell to pieces it was going to be her fault too. Ahh, the luxury of blame assignment.
Ok, I hate this stuff. I hate actions, because there is a safety in words. You can control and shape and push thins away. So I asked the group to show, without words, the emotion they had given their attention to. Not act it out, but to embody it. Be it. Whew.
A: I went first. I laid on the ground, hand crossed over my check and feet crossed over too. Jaw clenched, longing in my limbs. Eyes open.
B: Reached her hand out, touched the ground before her and then moving on agonized claw up, raked her hair. Perfect. No words needed.
C: Reached out and placed his arms around himself. Once, then again. The second time, relaxing into it. Great.
D: Said “I guess I need to lay down too”. She lay one one side, curving her arms out to hold something tight, then, at the moment it looked nourishing and warm and intimate, flopped to the other side and did the same. Then back, in obvious turmoil. It was amazing. I don’t know where it started, but everyone applauded.
E: Wrapped her blanket around her shoulders, and leaned on D, placing her head on his shoulder and exhaling into it. I teared a bit. Wow.
F: Gave herself a hug. Then plunged her face into her hands.
Wow. I cannot speak for the group., but for me, it was like lightening. Or Christmas, or pubtery. Full of surprises, all unexpected, and I am so grateful for our darkness and our demons and the glow of our lusterous pearl.
At the end, our own Chris Wilson spoke to the koan. He talked about how people don’t want happiness, they don’t want the peace of the grave, what we really strive for is composure, the willingness to let what was happening happen without judgment or expectation and to accept it all with dignity. How we are all hosts to the guests of our experiences and that when we turn to them, they are welcome and there is room for them. About how dualism, good or bad, right or wrong, led us to keep emotions, pains, discomforts at bay and thereby missing out on what was happening to us. I am doing a poor job of capturing his words. There was wisdom and darhma sparkling like champagne bubbles. I hope Chris might fill in a few for us in the comments.
Thank you all. That was an evening I will not forget.
[also, if you will indulge me, as I noted at the beginning of the meeting, only in the Bay area does a zen group discuss second round financings with VC's while waiting for the opening bell. I love this group. ]
“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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