“Always now – just now – come into being. Always now – just now – give yourself to death. Practicing this is Zen practice.” Soko Morinaga
Everyone wants to figure everything out. Everyone wants to have the real true thought to explain our lives with meaning. Most of us want some extreme, an absolute, to be true, and then we can get rid of all of the contradiction in our lives and latch onto that true thing. But of course that does not work. We all know it does not work.
In the monastery, I remember waiting in the Hondo (Great Hall) for the Roshi to come to one of many ceremonies we would have. It was winter, bitter cold, dark. We all had shaved heads. There was no heat. One must just get through the cold. At first we would just suffer, there was no escape. Just getting through it until we could get somewhere and put a head towel on and some socks. There was no way to think, to rationalize, which would make it better. It is a great trap.
We would have retreats every month for a week. Sitting basically all day, from 4am to 10 or 11pm. I am so grateful for those times, those brutal times sitting in the zendo, in such physical pain in my legs, when the Roshi would walk around and hit everyone with the Keisaku during the golden hour. Many evenings during it I quietly sobbed in pain. And then hobbled, cursing everything, to the urinal during kinhin (walking meditation between periods). Or on day five (of seven) in the evening, waiting for the period to end so I could move. The energy would always kind of blow up for me on day five. Sitting, not being able to contain all of that zazen energy, waiting for the Jokei to ring the freaking bell to end the period. Those were very long nights.
It was in these times of suffering, of feeling like there was no way to escape, which I am most grateful. Because in those times, we were forced to find a way to face what was happening, not with any brilliant ideas or philosophy, but to truly face our present moment. And in facing ourselves in those moments, in not being able to avoid or escape them, either we leave the monastery, or we are forced to discover joy. A joy without any attachments. An unexplainable joy.
For me, standing in the Hondo in the dark, in the bitter cold, freezing and shivering, I was so obsessed with finding a way to be okay just standing there. It sounds crazy, but I thought to myself, “I just want to be able to stand here.” Simply that. Without pain in my feet. Without shivering. Without feeling my shoulders at my ears. Without being wigged out from too much energy! Without freaking out about the situation. Without trying to avoid this moment. To run away from it. I became obsessed with this for several months. It was a big question for me. It is a good question. In some ways I am still obsessed with it.
But when we find our entryway into the present moment, it is so strange. It is the opposite everything we’ve ever done. It’s like we’ve never really touched the ground and we finally do. And it supports us and melts through us like warm honey. It’s like all of our cells synchronize. And we see how huge it is, this present moment. Bigger than anything we could have ever imagined. No thoughts can touch it. Our questions vanish. No ideas can describe it. Millions and millions of miles high, autumn blue sky! There we are, bare cracked feet, bald head, way too skinny from just eating rice and tofu, beady eyes with dark circles under them. There we are, standing in the dark, shining, shining and giggling.
We can all do this. We can all discover this. The present moment in here. In our lives, with kids and jobs and mortgages and crazy presidents. While cooking supper or sweeping the floor. In our sneakers and jeans and cool haircuts. When our kids are bouncing off the walls. Without explanation. Without being right. Without being holy. Without authority or fame. Without winning the argument. Giving ourselves to this moment, this death. Even in the warmest day, in the heat of summer, or the bleakest winter day, there we are, for no reason whatsoever, not knowing why, giggling in the dark.
People like to talk about big ideas. About attachment and God and love and freedom. Some real answers. Some stuff to really chew on! I can fake like I am interested for a while, but mostly I am just standing here in the dark, clueless, giggling! Come stand with me!
Thanks for reading! You can do it. We all need to help each other with this!
Min Tanaka by Charlie Steiner