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Wednesday, February 26, 2003

What's So Special About Peace, Love and Understanding

Pardon the above paraphrase, but this question arose after thinking about this past Sunday's Sangha gathering at The Energy Center in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. We began our first sitting after reading from Ezra Bayda's wonderful book, Being Zen, and after our second sitting we read from Judith Lasater's equally wonderful Living Your Yoga. They have much in common, as can be gauged by their titles. Both stress that real Yoga is found in "everyday life." They both ask, is there any other life in which Yoga is to be practiced? Is there any other place or time for us to be Yoga?

The "spiritual life" is rife with paradox, and none is more potentially damaging then the idea that to be a seeker is to seek! Identifying as a seeker continually puts what it is that we are seeking out of our reach. Lasater points out that "At first blush, it would seem that (the) transformation (brought about through Yoga practice) is about changing. However, it does not mean that you use Yoga to change into something different." What is transformed is one's relationship to life; to what is.

True Yoga practice is the cultivating of a willingness to "take the backward step" away from what we want reality to be and to return to the reality of this very moment. That is to say, it is the development of the ability to stay open and present -- with equanimity and clarity -- to what is. Now, the practice of being fully present may spark the motivation to dedicate your life to relieving the suffering around us throughout the world. This is the devlopment of bodhicitta and every bodhisattva requires this insight. Acceptance is not complacency. We need to open to what is before we can act as necessary, with clarity and non-attachment. These are all the prerequistes of karuna -- compassionate action.

Many of us have come to Yoga practice, as did the Buddha, because of some suffering, disatisfaction or difficulty in our lives. Somewhere we may have the idea that Yoga will solve our problems and keep them from ever arising again. Things will be fine. But the truth is that as long as we are embodied with a nervous system we will experience discomfort, pain, and unease. This is inevitable. No amount of practice will ever insulate us from losing loving ones, illness, aging, not getting what we want, and getting what we do not want. But, through awareness, we do not have to fall into the anguish of suffering.

Suffering arises when we attempt to separate ourselves from the moment. It arises when we attempt to force reality into some pre-fabricated idea, struggling against the truth of reality. And the fact of the matter is, reality always wins! Bayda points out that in order to keep ourselves insulated from reality, we develop strategies of control, strategies of success, strategies of conformity, of nurturing and of neediness and strategies of diversion. These are all ways we seek to maintain order, to prove our worth, to fit in, to be needed and appreciated, to be saved by others and to distract ourselves with pleasures, attempting to stuff the holes of longing and lonliness.

The last thing most of us do is to stop, take a step back and question these very strategies. If we do, we might see how they do not serve us at all. They solidify the illusion of separateness and keep us in the self-imposed cage of alienation -- the "mind-forged manacles" the poet William Blake describes. The real point of practice is not to avoid life, but to see if we can learn from life. We can learn that our difficulty is not something other than our path, but is the path itself. We create imbalance in our futile efforts to escape! He writes, "When uncomfortable things happen to us, we rarely want to have anything to do with them. We might respond with the belief that 'Things shoudln't be this way,' or 'Life shouldn't be so messy.' Who says?" We rarely ever question that belief!

When life is not measuring up to our expectations, maybe we should examine our expectations rather than blaming life's circumstances. Our difficulties are not the obstacles we make them out to be. They are the path itself. As Joko Beck points out, the hard sharp stones along the path are, with the maturing of practice, seen to be the diamonds and rubies that they truly are. They are the precious gems of each moment, priceless and radiant!

What "being zen" and "living your yoga" means is the gradual, yet deep and fundamental shift in our orientation to life. It is to grow in willingness to see what is, to learn from what is, and to be with whatever is. To be with our experience -- including the heaviness and the darkness, all the messy and smelly aspects of our life that we'd rather just cover over -- is already to be practicing unconditional love, peace and understanding. All that life brings becomes workable if we simply resolve to stay open to it and not reject and push it away.

Looking over my bookshelves I read the following titles from the spines: Nothing Special: Living Zen; Don't Just Do Something, Sit There!; Moment By Moment; The Wisdom of No Escape; Peace Is Every Step; Breathe! You Are Alive; A Heart As Wide As The World; Wherever You Go, There You Are; The Wisdom Of Insecurity; Being Nobody, Going Nowhere; Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind; Ordinary Mind; In This Very Life and I see that they are all saying the same thing. This life, this moment, is what we have to live and practice with. There is nothing special about the spiritual life. It is about "chopping wood and carrying water" -- or today's modern equivalents.

It is when we enter into our life, full-and-open-heartedly, that love, peace and understanding are there, because they are our birthright. We do not need to look for them in some special circumstances, conditions or places. We can be in love, peace and understanding right here and now. In fact, where else and when else if not here and now?

.: posted by Poep Sa Frank Jude 1:14 PM

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