“Having turned away from what is essential, atonement is a turning back to ourselves. Having created distance, we close the gap. It’s a seismic shift that can happen at any moment and always happens within a single moment of time, and that time is now. To cease from evil means to drop away old ways that create harm, to dry up those entrenched patterns and to work effectively with the conflicts within our mind….During fusatsu we chant Namu, which means “being one with.” We begin with being one with the past Seven Buddhas who were, in the cosmology of Buddhism, the predecessors of Shakyamun—the previous lives he spent developing himself toward his realization as a buddha….We often feel regret over the mistakes of our past, but those too are responsible for our having found the dharma.” The Work of Our Time, Posted on April 5, 2013, Fusatsu by Geoffrey Shugen Arnold, Sensei
Atonement is at-one-ment, a turning back to ourselves, the backward step, as Dogen would say. How do we get so far from ourselves? By dissociation. Life is just too hard to take all at once sometimes, so one part deals with the situation at hand, while the other parts seek safety and comfort elsewhere. The result? We’ve left pieces of ourselves everywhere.
The Police did a song, “King of Pain,” where Sting says, “That’s my soul up there.” That’s how I think of dissociation: leaving parts of ourselves in different places and then wondering why we feel so empty.
At-one-ment is gathering back all those parts of ourselves we’ve left elsewhere. When people, including myself, say, “I don’t know who I am anymore,” what does that really mean? Maybe if we retrieved all our different parts we could reassemble them into something more coherent, as opposed to looking for someone else to replace those parts of ourselves we have abandoned. I think looking at our parts, both claimed and abandoned, is a big part of what meditation is all about.
“True mastery can be gained
by letting things go their own way.
It can’t be gained by interfering.” Tao Te Ching, chapter 48, Stephen Mitchell translation
Non-interference (wu wei) is a big theme in the Tao Te Ching. Letting go of everything after you have done what you can in as harmonious manner as possible.
Easier said than done. It is hard to watch things go their own way when you see the train coming that will run over your friends and family. When I was younger and my brothers did drugs and alcohol, at first I made a lot of noise, trying to warn my parents. I was not taken seriously. I gave up. Eventually, they started experiencing consequences for their actions, but, dang, it took long enough!
I am determined to never be stuck again. The only way to not be stuck is to let go of anything that isn’t moving. If something or someone is determined to remain where they are, as they are, all I can do is let go and wish them well. My interference only rebounds back upon myself. My primary fidelity is to dynamic reality, not other people’s ideologies.
“The Master gives himself up
to whatever the moment brings.
He knows that he is going to die,
and he has nothing left to hold on to:
no illusions in his mind,
no resistances in his body.
He doesn’t think about his actions;
they flow from the core of his being.
He holds nothing back from life;
therefore he is ready for death,
as a man is ready for sleep
after a good day’s work.” TaoTe Ching, Chapter 50, Stephen Mitchell translation
Is this a description of “flow”? “Choiceless awareness”? Or are they the same thing?
If nothing else, it is a description of simplicity. It is precisely this kind of quote that confirms to me that Zen is a combination of Buddhism and Taoism. Dogen himself could have uttered those words.
When one lives by doing what the situation calls for, in an effort to benefit all, ethics do not to be spelled out and codified. They are integral to the actions themselves. The actions are the embodiment of ethical behavior.
This is kenosis at its most practical and profound. I’ve had to live like this at times, like waiting for Barry’s test results. There are no making plans, no ambitions, nor even any hopes. There is just the moment. It feels like a very hard way to live if one is used to always having a goal and point, like I am. It is truly a mini-death. Every cell in my body resists this ideal, even though it is what my spirit desires.
“Return is the movement of the Tao.
Yielding is the way of the Tao.
All things are born of being.
Being is born of non-being.” Tao Te Ching, Stephen Mitchell Translation, chapter 40
Returning: The way of the Tao
Do you ever feel like you are on a long, spiral journey, moving in circles, yet always forward?
I was an atheist as a teenager. I might be now. I don’t know. I know there is a spiritual dimension, but that isn’t quite the same thing as having a “Christian worldview” (aka, pre-scientific religious bias). I don’t know what I think, but I reserve the right to do so (that is, to think), anytime, anywhere.
The spirals I go in seem to get bigger with time, more inclusive of other people, cultures, and spiritualities. I am more esoteric than orthodox. In other words, the Sufis, Meister Eckhart, and Ramana Maharshi all speak to me in a way that the more traditional members of their religions do not. I am still interested in silence, stillness, and purity, but have found guidance in a great variety of traditions.
I grew up in a small town in Michigan (Potterville). I could see myself living in a small town once again, but in a different state or country. I identify with most people, even the most ignorant and intolerant, because, at one point or another, I have been just like them.
I am clearly returning, but to what? There is no going backward, but there is always the possibility of incorporating the best of the past into a new future.
“Seeing into darkness is clarity.
Knowing how to yield is strength.
Use your own light
and return to the source of light.
This is called practicing eternity.” Tao Te Ching, chapter 52, Stephen Mitchell translation
Given my dreams of being in rooms without functioning lights and leaving the darkness of emotional and spiritual regression behind, this verse is refreshing.
The Tao is about harmony, not domination. We need only to return to our own disowned light to re-achieve harmony.
We do not need to seek coherence, but to only let go of things that do not have it. The old Zen aphorism applies: Let go or get dragged.
For many years, I’ve had recurring dreams where there is a room I go into sometimes, flip the switch, and the light doesn’t come on. “Oh yeah. I forgot. The light doesn’t work. Someday, maybe I’ll fix it. Whatever.” In my dream, I am never upset about the light not working. It’s just the way it is.
A few days ago, I had a similar dream. I was making my bed and packing up to go somewhere. I thought, “Oh, I need to tell someone about the light not working.” Then I found someone and did so. I thought nothing of the dream. After all, nothing happened in the dream. It was all very anticlimactic.
Last night, the significance dawned on me. (The light came on, in oh so many ways.) That last dream was the first time I ever let the darkness be someone else’s problem. The darkness is the lack of intellectual freedom, an absence of the light of rationality, being denied the ability and right to think for oneself, or whatever you want to call it. I was moving on. Whether or not the light ever came on was now none of my concern.
This is all about me leaving conservative, organized religion. It is about me reclaiming my brain.
Looking back, it bothers me that, in the dream, the light never coming on was never problematic. I just spent less and less time in the room, so it never really affected me. Problem, sort of, solved.
My spirituality is intact and my thinking is clearer than ever.
I want to be a useful human being. I am looking for ways to be of immediate assistance. I have my MBA and now am determined to increase my intuitive and healing powers.
This weekend, I plan on checking out a volunteer possibility.
I have been looking online for information regarding the process of personal transformation. I have found a great deal. Just the looking forces me to refine my search: transformation from what to what? If you think of transformation as being like going from a caterpillar to a butterfly, you run into problems. The caterpillar creates a dark cocoon and then emerges as a butterfly. It doesn’t have to take care of the bills in the meantime. The caterpillar is not expected to function on a day-to-day basis.
But the metaphor does emphasize the reality that one cannot remain a caterpillar and then wonder why one cannot fly. Transformation looks painful. It is the death of the caterpillar and it is also the reason it exists. The caterpillar was never meant to remain one.
I have developed many skills, but my primary goal right now is to take care of Barry. Period. When I emerge as a widow (in a warmer climate), who knows what I will be? How can a caterpillar know what life as a butterfly is like? Like the caterpillar in the cocoon, I remain in the dark.
“If ultimately you’re going to develop the perception of not-self, why spend time developing a perception of self? The short answer is that the path is a skill, and, as with many other skills, there are many different stages in mastering it. Sometimes you have to do one thing at one stage, and turn around and erase it at another. It’s like making a chair. At one stage you have to mark the wood with a pencil so that you can cut it properly, but when you’re ready to apply the final finish, you have to sand the pencil marks away.” Selves & Not Self, p. 21, Thanissaro Bhikkhu
This is the best description of what a self is all about I have seen. We are all told we have to develop certain social skills and self-esteem. Religions talk about surrendering ourselves to the process or God or whatever, but how can you surrender something you never developed in the first place? Then Buddhism comes along and says, “What self? No self actually exists.”
Thanissaro explains it in such a Buddhist way: it’s all about being skillful and doing what needs to be done appropriately at each stage. After you cross the river, you don’t then strap the canoe to your back and carry it around.
Do we need self-esteem? Definitely, at certain developmental stages and in specific situations. We need to be functional in the larger world, not crippled by shame, rage, or whatever.
“I follow four dictates: face it, accept it, deal with it, then let it go.” ~Sheng Yen
“Let go or be dragged.” ― Zen Proverb
It sounds like a recipe for maturity: don’t pretend things are different than they are, intentionally decide what you can do in response, do it consciously, and release the result.
I’ve been the person getting dragged, haven’t you? If you don’t let it go, whatever it is, it remains in control of you and your future.
I have brothers that have not always been good, law-abiding citizens. One of the first decisions I made as an adult was that, wherever I lived, no criminal activity would occur in my residence or transportation. I still have not had my brothers over. Wherever they go, they feel they have the right to drink or do drugs. Not in my place. Take your beer and pot elsewhere because they are not welcome here. My husband is in AA and we don’t need it around.
If I was still in denial, like many of my family members still are, I would be holding on to the hope they would quit or the idea that things aren’t really that bad. I doubt I would have my education because education is a huge threat to denial.
Sometimes, people hold onto their illusions and, if you want a relationship with them, you are expected to share those illusions. If you let go of the illusion, the relationship is gone as well or extremely strained at the very least. I am no longer willing to be dragged around by other people’s illusions.
I am at a point in my life where I want to complete transactions. I don’t want anything lingering around me, unfinished. I want my dealings to be clean.
“Healing may not be so much about getting better, as about letting go of everything that isn’t you—all of the expectations, all of the beliefs—and becoming who you are.” Rachel Naomi Remen, MD
Absolutely every form of suffering I can think of in my life has come from hanging onto something I ultimately was forced to let go of. People’s approval, straight As, church, lying friends, toxic jobs, and everything else that comes to mind, all of the pain has come from refusing to let go. Holding onto those dreams, childhood needs, and non-reciprocal relationships has almost killed me.
People will extol the virtues of holding on, regardless of the real-life consequences, even martyrdom. There is no inherent virtue in martyrdom. Martyrdom is the ultimate in winning the battle and losing the war. Look at the lives of the people “holding on” to whatever it may be (a dead relationship or church, an ideology, adolescent hopes and dreams, whatever): stuck in the past, unable to move forward (or maybe at all), imprisoned by their own hand.
People want my participation so they can point to me and say, “See! Cindy does it, too.” My approval-seeking actions have been used way too often to justify other people’s submission to oppressive systems.
I think it was Michelangelo who said that he created David by removing everything that wasn’t David. It is time to start chipping away.