Slowly we are being pulled into the center and core of our being. We are gently coming to know our “kokoro” – our heart-mind, our core – ever more intimately.
In Zen, the slower we go the sooner we get there.
The “goal” is not out there.
Maybe it’s better to think of ourselves like a toy duck floating in a bath tub. We keep bobbing against the sides. We think we have to know where we are going. But really the moment we start our practice and training the plug has already been pulled, and the water level is going down, unnoticed by us. But gradually it starts to pull us closer and closer to the drain. Slowly we are being pulled into the center and core of our being. We are gently coming to know our “kokoro” – our heart-mind, our core – ever more intimately.
This is not an achievement. Not an attainment. It can, unfortunately, look like it though. As a result we may start to wonder if we will ever “attain” or reach it. Worse, we may fear that we won’t. That we will “fail.” Worse still, we may wonder if we are a bad student, a hopeless case who can’t meditate well, who will never “get it.”
Actually to be a hopeless case is the best thing in Zen. As one master said, when your last arrow is shot and your bow is broken, that’s when you can really shoot.
Kyogen seems to have felt this way. He failed to answer a question put to him by his master, Isan, and left the monastery in despair and shame to become a wandering laborer. He seems never to have quite given up on his practice, though. One morning while sweeping a yard he flicked a pebble against a bamboo stalk, and the sound of its knock is said to have awakened him – a knock that is still reverberating through the eons and generations.
But the real point is this: all the practice is inviting us to do is to come closer and closer to the heart of our actual ongoing everyday experience. The more we accept our experience as it is, the more we “advance” in practice. In other words, there really is no advancing. There is just ever greater acceptance of ourselves as we actually are, right now, leading to ever greater releasing, and healing that comes automatically with our radical self-acceptance.
If only we could stop trying to get anywhere at all. Then we would know that we had already arrived before we took the first step on the journey of practice. Practice is realization, as Dogen says repeatedly. May we all sit in ever deeper faith and trust that that is indeed true.
By Henry Shukman, from our newsletter archives.
Image: Zen Stones, CC0 Public Domain, from pixabay.com.