From the Mind of an Archer #9
An interesting set of circumstances is floating up as I look back on the discomfort of this past year.
I remember I heard somewhere that major changes are always a source of agony, either external or internal. I think that generally this is true, an ironical understanding that life will be full of suffering. Change is inevitable and we will be forced to adapt and suffer a fair bit on the way.
When I discovered Zen in my early 20's I was shocked by the idea that I could choose the amount of attachment and personification I carry when confronted with significant events. Of course, the idea was not completely novel, as an Israeli I was well acquainted with the work of Viktor Frankl (and frankly found it rather boring since it was part of my high school curriculum) and several other psychological theories.
But Zen was different, it didn't try to explain to me why changes were more or less dramatic in my life and neither how to dismantle the 'narrative' of the problem through another 'narrative' from my past.
Zen simply asked me 'who is this I that is experiencing change?'
Zen was not presented as a fixed concept or an orthodox collection of essays; it was exactly the opposite.
It was probably the first time I encountered the idea of 'practice' as a way of dealing with life. I realized that most things can happen by chance but a few fundamental things will not happen unless I give them direct attention. So what needs to be practiced the most according to my understanding of Zen? Emptiness, the disconnection from the heavy burden of remembering, analyzing and justifying circumstances and actions. Practicing the ability to act in accordance with a current reality and not with a preconceived one.
Many practitioners I met along the way have taken this doctrine and turned it into an alternative dogma, a nihilistic intellectual detachment or just another set of beliefs that in Zen will be considered as another 'outfit'. I took this realization and teachings as an open invitation to live a proactive life, an open door that in the right moment leads to physical autonomy.
In the language of architecture, emptiness can be seen as space, and human movement happens in the space between the framing walls and not 'within' the walls. Focusing on the walls will give a logical understanding of safety, but the movement that happens between them is what amounts to one's experience of life. In other words, understanding and experiencing are different aspects of existence, and possibly the culture I live in has a clear bias towards the former. A personal practice can balance this equation.
Zen didn't free me from dogmas, beliefs or history, it just offered me the option of practicing in between them. Of course, our perception remembers, imagines and stores all of our experiences so 'emptying' oneself through the physical experience is not something that can be understood or mastered, rather it is something that constantly needs to be re-practiced. When there is a commitment to emptiness the spaces that one can find become vaster and vaster, even in smaller and smaller 'logical' spaces. When the image of reality is integrated clearly within us, even a tiny little hole is enough to see it.
And then the meaning of things starts to be open for interpretation rather than to improvement and mistakes.
The changes that happen from the external world are unexpected and inevitable. Any attempt to establish a general social truth has been shattered and argued aggressively in 2020.
Nevertheless, the truth of experiencing my movement day after day and year after year is as absolute as any subjective experience can be.
And the changes that this gradual practice will bring contain a personal truth, of sickness, decay, sadness and happiness. Of clarity, confusion, precision and exhaustion. Of achievement and failure, of lines and curves, of push and pull.
And here comes the ultimate choice, which of those should be gripped firmly and which should be let go of gently.
Just like an athlete sometimes needs to hold on to a painful loss in order to learn and to let go of a grand winning so the next season will not be confused with the past.
Just like the pain and fear of a risk that ended harmfully needs to be let go of to try again.
No one wants to live a life without sadness, but no one wants to get stuck in it. The richness of the life between the walls goes further than good or bad because it includes both and much more. Wisdom is to know when to hold on firmly or let go gracefully of any of the happenings.
And this is also an invitation to finish this year with a practice.
We could consider holding on to things and letting go of things as two ways of relating to the change that is constantly happening to us. Often this change is out of our hands and as a consequence, letting go or holding on are both reactions. The pity for the 'I' or what was before is what causes us to regret or judge our reactions to the world around us.
I want to offer you a practice of proactive change, to physically express what often happens as an inevitable reaction.
Find some space between 4 walls or less ;) and practice grabbing tightly to something. It can be imaginary or real, it can be important or not but make sure you grab as tight as you can and remember that on the day that you need to hold on as if your life depends on it, this practice will support you or even save you. And then practice letting go of everything. Letting go has no shape and no gesture so anything will do in this practice. Let go with your body as if it is your last breath. Say farewell to what was until now, so you are empty to experience what is yet to come.
Wishing you a happy new year, Tom