I recently heard about a high tech “Master Program that brings you the benefits of 21-40 years of advanced Zen meditation in”—get this—5 days! To be clear I subscribe to the idea of “whatever works” and would happily try this combination of bio-feedback, diet, “pod-practice” etc. If I had the disposable $15K. 

It is not the program, but the claim that grinds against my sense of truth. First of all there couldn’t be anything less zen than distilling zen into a commodity.

Break open 

a cherry tree

And there are no flowers,

But the spring breeze

Brings forth a myriad of blossoms

~Ikkyu

We human beings are an ever unfolding universe. The Universe as humanity and as the unique human individual. Like nesting dolls we are within everything and everything is within us. We succeed or fail, shine or dim within the fabric of all things. The terrible and wonderful truth is that each soul has her own pace of growing and blossoming. 

Have you ever had your heart torn open? For those that have, the last thing they need is to be placed in a sleek pod with electrodes on their scalp. What we need is connection.  And just now:

Eclectic and comfortable cafe, writing in a cozy chair near a ceramic log fire and a large lounging tabby cat with his own leather armchair, the thud of a little girl falling to the floor behind me. Dad sweeps her into his arms and Mother says “that was scary wasn’t it?”. Moments later she is laughing once again.

No diet, nor pod, nor brain scan can repeat or replace this experience, nor can it provide it for those who fell to the floor and sobbed without response in their own childhood. Forty years of meditation doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Life and death are happening. Countries are rising and falling, great joys and calamities befall us. In most mystic spiritual traditions it is understood that the self is assembled and then dismantled only to reform and be scattered to the wind once again. Our lives are as much the turning of the leaves as they are winning a contract or securing a bank balance.

The culture that cajoles us to success and achievement is missing the point. The scriptural question of what it means to gain the world, but to lose our souls should bring us to our knees. Humankind could weep for a thousand years over this loss. There is no heart in seeing ourselves as a commodity. We desperately need an inner life, a place to be touched and from where to touch.

Sometimes I sit quietly, 

Listening to the sound of falling leaves.

Peaceful indeed is the life of a monk, 

Cut off from all worldly matters.

Then why do I shed these tears?

~Ryokan

Climbing out of our pods, the world needs our empathy more than it needs our success, our appreciation rather than our domination, and perhaps most of all our humility. To start, how about an intention to reclaim our hearts? Let’s do it fiercely. Not in a fawning, sentimental, or cloying way. How about looking at ourselves, the world around us and even our enemies and saying “I will never kick you out of my heart. Even if I fear you, am angry at you, rejected by you, or hate you, you will never be utterly out of my heart.” [a caveat here: in cases of abuse and deep inner work we might have to explore annihilating our abusers in order to reclaim our power]

Importantly we cannot leave ourselves out of this fierce heart embrace. In this case “ourselves” means the entirety of our experience, in particular our inner lives. Splitting away any part of ourselves is compartmentalizing reality. Good/evil, human/nature, God/devil ultimately divide us from the direct experience of life. 

In practical terms, think about which of your own experiences you describe as “positive” and which as “negative”. To go further, what do you do with the “negative” experience? Do you stuff it, talk yourself out of it, act it out on the world around? How about meeting it, nodding and saying “I see you there, I know there is a reason for you, and I also know your perspective is not the whole story”

Next we turn our fierce hearts towards truth. As confusing as truth has become in the world today, we can learn to stop and say “this is true for me now: I am hurting; I am sad; I am angry; I am alive and filled with wonder.” Frankly this is easier for some than others. This phase can be helpful: your feelings are non-negotiable. We can ask ourselves multiple times a day “where am I now, what is my experience now” right or wrong has no bearing on this. Your emotion may be based on a false reading of reality, or on a past experience superimposed on the present moment so it isn’t an ultimate truth, but it is a step toward deeper truth. 

Stopping and looking directly towards the center of any emotion, or feeling will inevitably reveal something deeper, something more true. Anger for instance is often a defensive emotion. To stop, acknowledge without judgment, breathe, and really feel that anger in the body will usually reveal something like . . . “I am hurt” or “I feel alone”

But why? Why the laborious truth telling? The secret is this: the passion with which you direct your fierce heart to truth is the flame that keeps you passionate for life. This is also a process through which you become an authentic human being, one who can touch and be touched. You become a dynamic core that radiates outward and receives feedback in a continuous cycle of creation. You are the universe dancing the unique form of your individual self, and that form can implicitly understand the dance of all forms.

If you cannot find the truth within yourself, where else do you expect to find it?

~Dogen

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