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Lions Roar : September 2011
SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2011 44 a pious bone in his body. His manner was gruff and probably a little scary to new students, and in some ways, despite his long marriage, fatherhood, and many years living communally in the temple, he was a loner. So the expressions of love and ten- der regard for him that were made at the funeral were eloquent testimony that what counts in human interaction isn’t outward sweetness, polite solici- tude, or fulfilling others’ needs and expectations. It’s the capacity to show up intimately and honestly, with one’s whole self, for and with each other, over time. It’s not necessary that the people we love be perfect or even overcome what might be serious personal defects. Living together for a long time with practice as a backdrop, we can get over our need for others to be as we wish they were, and appreciate them for what they are. The celibate monks of old China and the married priests of the San Francisco Zen Center may be liv- ing in unusual situations, but the basic template of what they have learned from the Zen tradition about relationships is useful for the rest of us. Though we may not be able to replicate their lives, we can, I am quite sure, find a way to capture the essence of the practice that they’ve done, and it can help us with our contemporary relationship problems. There is, of course, some serious effort involved—meditat- ing on one’s own and at group retreats, listening to teachings, and the daily effort of paying attention. But these are efforts that can realistically and suc- cessfully be made, if you feel it’s a priority. The most important thing is coming back to pres- ence every day, back to the breath, to sitting, walking, and standing, and remembering that this is what we are. It’s a practice we can do with as much integrity as Guishan, Longtan, or Lou Hartman. We can remind ourselves that when our passions are aroused, or when we feel our needs are unmet, we can return to presence and just feel what- ever we feel, with some forbearance. We don’t need to make it go away and we don’t need to insist that others do what we think we need them to do. Of course, we can’t expect our lives to go as smoothly as those of the ancient Chinese Zen masters whose stories I have used here (and remember, these are stories, not memoirs). Real life rela- tionships will involve negotiation, push and pull, and, sometimes, a necessary parting of the ways. But it makes a dif- ference if all of this is done with some deeper basis, some deeper knowing and appreciation of one another, rather than simply needs and wants. I have found over the years that when a couple practices together, there’s a basis or grounding for their relationship. Even if there are tough times, somehow the return to basic human presence— their own and that of others—brings them back to appreciation and affection. In relationship, as in spiritual prac- tice, commitment is crucial. In both Zen and marriage there’s the practice of vowing, intentionally taking on a path, even if we know we won’t get to PHOTOBYLIZAMATTHEWS