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Lions Roar : September 2009
SHAMBHALA SUN SepteMBer 2009 70 i stood there at the front of the zendo, holding the stick. There’s no rule saying the jikijitsu has to venture out to walk amongst the meditators. i could just stand there for the whole twenty-five minute sit if i chose, but pema’s words came back to me: “opting for coziness, having that as your prime reason for existing, becomes a continual obstacle to taking a leap and doing something new, something unusual, like going as a stranger into a strange land.” perhaps suzuki roshi put it best: “Zen is the path of no turn- ing back.” when i first started practicing there was one struggling stu- dent in particular who remained unconvinced by “boot-camp spirituality.” he carried on every chance he got about how artifi- cial the extreme discipline was, how “not me” the kanji chanting and fierce sitting/koan meetings were. he respected the practice but he couldn’t “get into it.” it wasn’t his thing. That student was me, a million lifetimes ago, it seems. what i failed to realize was that my resistance was in itself a pose, a stance—a result of my conditioning as a free-spirited, in- dividualistic american prone to respecting all paths and choos- ing none. i’d never been stripped of myself, and so i mistook a cleverly embroidered outfit of attitudes for my deepest self, which i had to “be true to.” Through the path of negation of self, i began to get an inkling of just how thoroughly cloaked i was in attitudes and platitudes—in my own bullshit—and i also learned that despite this, i had to keep going. way down at the other end of the zendo, shivering, shaking, lost in himself, was Tico, the eccentric student. my sphincter spasmed briefly in rage. he’d been a thorn in my authoritarian side all winter. now, however, instead of a threat to be quelled, he merely looked like his head was about to spin around in circles. i knew the feeling. standing there holding that stick, reeking like my nephew af- ter he’s filled his diaper, i realized that this is when true practice begins: when you are officially in way over your head. “To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake,” pema tells us in When Things Fall Apart, “is to be continually thrown out of the nest. To live fully is to be always in no-man’s land, to experience each moment as completely new and fresh. To live is to be willing to die over and over again.” Zen is the practice of coming up out of yourself and into the situation, any situation, meeting it fully, with a complete heart— no holding back, no half-measures, no room for doubt or selfish- ness. You run the razor of practice from ear to ear, decapitating the dualistic dictator within so that the blood of ego flows forth as the milk of self-sacrifice, nourishing the world. okay, maybe that’s a little dramatic. i simply went amongst some Zen students with a load in my pants. This was my humble contribution to whatever they learned that day: how to move forward despite your imperfections, despite the fact that you’re covered in your shit. ♦