Tonight we sat. We spoke a koan into the room while we sat, then we had a bit of a game.
A Chinese sage said this about the mind:
Whatever confronts you, don’t believe it.
When something appears shine your light on it.
Have confidence in the light that is always working inside you.
I don't think I had encournatered this koan before, but I can't be sure. My memory has some gaps. But I liked it and it resonated when I read it, so we shared it during our sit. After tea and our usual catch up conversations, There was a short talk about the phrases.
There seemed to be a good deal to unpack, but the features that stood out was the contrasted notions of light. Now light itself may require some interpretation. Does it mean "us" our true selves, our essence? For the purposes of the conversation, we assumed it mean attention. Awareness. Intimacy. Focus even.
So interesting that in on part, the koan describes a light that can be directed. Our light, that can be shone on something. In the way when something grabs our attention, or requires our attention. The way we consciously consider something, or notice it. I turn to this document I am reformatting, and shine my light on the task. I notice my rising frustration, boredom. I notice thoughts floating up. Some are useful, some are not. Something like that.
But the koan also describes another light - dispersed, glowing, autonomous, going where it will, working without our conscious instruction. And there is that light too. That light that works on a deeper level. It presents the obstacles to me that I stumble over until I can resolve them. It finds the help I need and presents it if I am willing to pay attention. It reminds me of things I heard and found comforting early in my practice:
Don't worry about forgotten lessons, or even not being able to recall talks you have heard. They affect your very cells on some level, and change you in ways that you don't need to be conscious to enjoy.
This moment contains everything you need.
So, we talked a bit about how the two lights had a relationship. The way that sometimes the light inside of us find a dark place, a hurt place, a place that is the cause of suffering, or a place of joy unappreciated, love, compassion and presents it to that conscious search light of our awareness. And...well, sometimes we aren't ready. For some reason, we can maintain our presence in its face. The light of our awareness moves on, slips off, creating these shadows in our mind. Dark spots. For Douglass Adams fans- Someone Elses Problem. Things we don't want to confront or deal with.
So we sat. And played a game.
Once people stilled, we were invited to watch our minds. Not focus on breathing, or a mantra, or any other techniques than just notice the thoughts, impressions and sensations as they arose. Once we noticed our mind shying from one area, we were asked not to try and see what our mind was avoiding. Instead, what was the nature of the "Do Not Trespass" sign? What techniques did our minds use to keep us out? Fear? Discomfort? Misdirection? And what was it like if we just parked ourselves infront of that barrier., without trying to solve it, or penetrate it?
We had a really rich discussion.
A: Found fear, and that his mind presented him with a wall that he couldn't penetrate. But he noted that the wall started to soften when he just sat by it, and didn't try and bridge it.
B: Noted that as he has been sitting over the years, his practice is characterized by noticing how his mind avoids certain places. That his personal growth has come from gently approaching those places
C: Noted that her mind started to run when she approached a topic it was warning her away from. She found it wouldn't settle down.
D: Noted she was drawn to darker thoughts. That for her the recommendation to not believe them was more useful
E: Noted her mind shied away, and threw a number of obstacles up.
F: Noted that his mind presented discomfort, or told him that more important things needed to be focused on, or presented more seductive thoughts when an area was approached.
All in all, a great evening and the conversation went a little late.
“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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