Transcribed from a talk given Tuesday October 28, 2008.
Tonight I wanted to talk a little bit about `the wall’. Over the past weekend simultaneously at the Victoria Zen Centre, there are two introductory classes going on. And, this past session has been about emotions and some of the difficulties that arise within practice. Many people come and approach meditation practice, Zen practice, from many different perspectives and often I’m surprised by how taken aback or taken by surprise they are by the power of meditation practice.
I think many people come for their first time or two to try meditation as a means of calming their mind, as a means of settling down into their lives and experiencing what’s happening in this moment. And universally, when we come with this attitude we have this unquestioning attitude that the fact that our minds are busy, the fact that we’re busy is a bad thing. And that we need to do something about it.
We’ve been driven to distraction by the busy-ness of the wheels in our minds and we want to slow them down. But before we take up this seated meditation we never stop to contemplate why. Why is my mind so busy?
Now, my personal belief is that these kinds of things, these kinds of busy-ness, internal busy-ness doesn’t happen without a very good reason. It’s often not until people start to sit, people start to engage in a regular meditation practice, that they start to gain some insight into why it is their minds are so busy.
I often use this phrase when I’m giving talks here on Tuesday night, `to enter into this moment which has as it’s content all things’ and I think that many people think this sounds wonderful ... `to enter into this moment which has as it’s content all things’. But as we begin to let go of the busy-ness of our minds, as we begin to allow the distractions that we involve ourselves with, mentally, emotionally, and physically to melt away, as we come to truly enter into this moment with its contents, we find that all things means ALL things; all of these things that we find that are pleasant, but also all the things in this moment that we carry with us that are unpleasant, that are difficult, that are ugly, that carry with them shame and fear and guilt.
Suddenly, it begins to dawn on us why my mind is so busy. Sitting with this stuff, sitting with my own bag of stuff that I carry with me wherever I go is difficult, it’s uncomfortable, it’s unpleasant at times. Sometimes at this point, people get mad at Eshu, they get mad at meditation practice and they say `Hey, what happened to all that peaceful, warm, nice meditation that I was having for awhile. It’s your fault’.
It’s easy to externalize this difficulty when we’re experiencing it in practice, and being the guy with the bald head and black robes makes you a pretty easy target. But it’s important that when this arises in practice, we recognize who carries it, who brings it with them. Accepting responsibility for our own lives is a crucial aspect of practice. This dawning, this beginning of realization of practice; that we carry with us a whole mess is one way of understanding what I refer to as `the wall’.
For some of you who have been busy reading and studying about Zen practice, you will find that in our history the first patriarch of Zen in China was a man called Bodhidharma. He’s famous for this practice called nine years facing the wall. In some traditions in Zen Buddhism, this practice is literally done facing the wall, a physical wall, but in truth if you’re engaged in Zen practice it’s all facing the wall.
This wall is the obstacle, the difficulty, the discomfort that we ourselves carry with us all the time. It is these feelings of anger, hate, fear, grief, shame, guilt ... the things that we carry with us all the time that we don’t want to talk about... we don’t want to look at ... we don’t want to sit with, or to experience.
From the time that we’re very young, we develop many, many coping mechanisms to distract ourselves from them, to avoid them, to bring ourselves into a position where we just don’t have to think about them anymore. Depending on how significant that pain is, depending on how greatly we suffer from what we carry with us; the more drastic our techniques for distracting ourselves get.
We start with just thinking differently, thinking about something else, busy, busy, busy in the mind. But as the pain increases it begins to need more strength to distract ourselves from it. So we can get involved in all kinds of things, distracting ourselves with food, distracting ourselves with physical activities, distracting ourselves with drugs and sex and whatever else we can come up with.
In practice, we begin to take these backward steps, we begin to unload, disassemble all of these clever techniques that we have for not looking at what we’re carrying around with us. It’s at about this time that we realize that things are getting difficult, and we need to make a really crucial decision in our practice. Do you really want to change?
People approach Buddhism, and they hear about this teaching of `no self’, they hear about the teaching of `impermanence’ and the idea is captivating.This teaching is philosophically interesting and so we say, `that sounds really good, I’d like to get into that’. But as we continue to practice, we find that we are very attached to who it is that we think we are.
I think that many people, only think that we’re attached to all the good things that we think we are, but as we continue to practice, we begin to find that we’re also deeply committed, deeply immersed, deeply fixated with our own grief, our own anger, our own likes and dislikes and preferences. We’re even attached to our own failure.
If it’s familiar to us, we are it. So when we come to this place where we are confronting ourselves honestly, when we have entered into this moment with all things as it’s content ... good and bad, light and dark, pleasant and unpleasant ... we’re faced with this choice. Do I actually want to change? Because if we do we have to break through the wall... we have to do things which may be profoundly uncomfortable. We have to let go of aspects of ourselves which we have held up, glorified and fixated to as being `me’. “I’m this kind of person”, “I’m that kind of person”, “I like this and I don’t like that.” “Ooh, this kind of person is really not my style.” When we start to honestly see where these kinds of choices... where these kinds of fixations have brought us, we’re always faced with this choice... to let it drop... let it hit the floor... and arise as somebody new... to allow this old self to drop away, or to use traditional terms, to allow the old self to die, and to arise anew.
The truth is this practice, to do this, is not an easy endeavour. I’ve been teaching Zen in Victoria now for 10 years and there are not so many people that have been around that whole time. Many people come to this wall and decide “Naaa, I think I’ll just go back to distracting myself.” Make no mistake... this kind of transformation is not an easy game. It requires you to summon up the strength, all the strength that you have, and to give rise to the, dare I say faith, that if you let go of these things that you’re so attached to, you won’t just disappear.
As we enter into this moment, this moment that has as its content all things, we realize that there is an opportunity for us to become free. When we become transparently clear about the burden that we carry with us all the time, we realize that there is only one person that shoulders its weight. We begin to realize that in each moment we all have a choice to pick it up and continue to slug it along with us, or to let it drop.
My hope for each of us is that in each moment we are able to let this bag drop and to arise anew, to face each moment fresh, reborn, and to manifest a new and true you.