It seems too much to hope that right in the heart of our troubled selves there might actually be the healing we seek.
Beautiful Storm: Finding the hidden remedies in our troubles selves
In the course of that bright, rooftop morning in Puerto Rico—a morning touched by the sun’s benison after the ravages of the storm—sipping coffee and sharing stories, I began to understand that my woes might not be so bad after all; they could be my own signposts, guiding me toward what I needed, if only I trusted them, rather than
condemning myself for having them. Even my not yet having committed fully to Zen wasn’t blameworthy; perhaps it was a good thing: perhaps I just wasn’t ready yet.
Juan told me the secret he had discovered: nothing bad had happened to him that didn’t have the potential for good in it. In the years after his divorce he had weaned himself of alcohol and despair, and had come to realize that he could find a new way of living, better than before, with more love and with more time—time for friendship, kindness, appreciation, and patience. The storm that had hit his life could perhaps help him after all. It had, he said, woken him from a bad dream. It was like the Gorgon Medusa: she was the ugliest and cruelest of creatures, yet it was from the place where her blood spilled to the ground that the white-winged horse Pegasus, the most beautiful and loyal beast in all mythology, sprang forth.
As I flew home the next day, it dawned on me that I wanted to visit a small, out-of-the- way Zen center I had heard of in my hometown. I went there soon after my return and, sure enough, easily and naturally entered training with my first true Zen teacher, a training that to this day has not ended. Juan had inspired me to try being patient with my troubled self, and in this case at least, it was just the thing.
Through him I glimpsed something beyond the carrot-and-stick model of life I had been following. I had thought the point was to pursue happiness and flee misery, and this attitude extended to Zen practice. But now I saw a new way of looking at things. What if the point was to start by accepting suffering? Perhaps it was not the enemy. Juan’s assurance of there being a silver lining in every cloud might be a choice, but it was a good choice. As Zen Master Joshu said in the ninth century: “The door of every house leads to Chang’an” (the capital city of Tang China). Every house.
Perhaps we all carry an immemorial wound, an infinite loss, a self-exile we perpetrate on ourselves. It turns us into isolated entities stalking the earth in search of what we think we need—the temporary stays against ennui, despair, loss, and terror. But sooner or later, the wound can carry us toward its own remedy, if we only let it. It seems too much to hope that right in the heart of our troubled selves there might actually be the healing we seek. But if suffering and awakening form a single weather-system, as many a wise person has come to know, then when storms come, perhaps we can accept them with less dread and aversion, and more trust, and even hope. “The door to every house leads to Chang’an.”
By Henry Shukman, originally published in Tricycle Magazine, Spring 2014 Issue
Image: Air-Beautiful, CC0 Public Domain, at Pixabay.com