Each moment, life as it is, the only teacher: quotes from Joko Beck

I posted this originally on June 16, 2011. Needing to remind myself of her wisdom, I thought you might want to (re)read her words and appreciate her wisdom too.

~~

Charlotte Joko Beck died yesterday, very peacefully, at the age of 94. She was a Zen teacher who made a major impact on American Buddhism.

Here’s a link to her obituary, a note from her dharma heir Barry Magid, and a remembrance by a long-time friend.

And here’s a link to an article that puts her work into perspective:

The Ordinary Mind School was among the first Zen communities to consciously engage the emotional life and the shadows of the human mind as Zen practice. The late Charlotte Joko Beck and her dharma heirs adapted elements of the vipassana tradition — a relentless inquiry into the contours of the human mind — as unambiguous Zen discipline.

Here are some quotes from her:

With unfailing kindness, your life always presents what you need to learn. Whether you stay home or work in an office or whatever, the next teacher is going to pop right up.

Caught in the self-centered dream, only suffering;
holding to self-centered thoughts, exactly the dream;
each moment, life as it is, the only teacher;
being just this moment, compassion’s way.

Enlightenment is not something you achieve. It is the absence of something. All your life you have been going forward after something, pursuing some goal. Enlightenment is dropping all that.

Wisdom is to see that there is nothing to search for. If you live with a difficult person, that’s nirvana. Perfect. If you’re miserable, that’s it. And I’m not saying to be passive, not to take action; then you would be trying to hold nirvana as a fixed state. It’s never fixed, but always changing. There is no implication of ‘doing nothing.’ But deeds done that are born of this understanding are free of anger and judgment. No expectation, just pure and compassionate action.

Practice is just hearing, just seeing, just feeling. This is what Christians call the face of God: simply taking in this world as it manifests. We feel our body; we hear the cars and birds. That’s all there is.

Life always gives us exactly the teacher we need at every moment. This includes every mosquito, every misfortune, every red light, every traffic jam, every obnoxious supervisor (or employee), every illness, every loss, every moment of joy or depression, every addiction, every piece of garbage, every breath. Every moment is the guru.

So a relationship is a great gift, not because it makes us happy — it often doesn’t — but because any intimate relationship, if we view it as practice, is the clearest mirror we can find.

Practice can be stated very simply. It is moving from a life of hurting myself and others to a life of not hurting myself and others. That seems so simple — except when we substitute for real practice some idea that we should be different or better than we are, or that our lives should be different from the way they are. When we substitute our ideas about what should be (such notions as “I should not be angry or confused or unwilling”) for our life as it truly is, then we’re off base and our practice is barren.

We have to face the pain we have been running from. In fact, we need to learn to rest in it and let its searing power transform us.

We learn in our guts, not just in our brain, that a life of joy is not in seeking happiness, but in experiencing and simply being the circumstances of our life as they are; not in fulfilling personal wants, but in fulfilling the needs of life.

Meditation is not about some state, it is about the meditator.

Zen practice isn’t about a special place or a special peace, or something other than being with our life just as it is. It’s one of the hardest things for people to get: that my very difficulties in this very moment are the perfection… When we are attached to the way we think we should be or the way we think anyone else should be, we can have very little appreciation of life as it is…whether or not we commit physical suicide, if our attachment to our dream remains unquestioned and untouched, we are killing ourselves, because our true life goes by almost unnoticed.

Lessons from the 21-day Byron Katie challenge

The challenge to focus on The Work of Byron Katie for 21 days was worthwhile. I examined a painful thought that has been a thread running through my life, that my father didn’t care about me.

I subjected that belief to inquiry, and it did not hold up. My father did care about me. I know that deeply now. The way he chose to express it — nonverbally, without physical, verbal, or visual signs of affection, without playfulness, and pretty much without much eye contact or much facial expression at all — was not a way I understood or valued when I was young and first had this thought.

I realize now that he showed his caring by simply being there with his family and not somewhere else, supporting me from infancy through adulthood, reading aloud to his children, helping with homework, and creating order through daily rituals (dinner time, bath time, bed time). He wasn’t really that different from many men who were fathers in the 1950s and 1960s — who had been through sobering times (the Great Depression and World War II). He was not frivolous, not expressive, and a man who had lost his own father at age 9.

I took him for granted.

I did this challenge a bit differently than I initially envisioned doing it. I had thought that I would do one worksheet a day, answering the four questions and doing the turnarounds for 21 days.

That would have been extremely time-consuming. My blog posts would have been quite lengthy, and I fear you, dear readers, might have completely lost patience and interest.

So instead, I worked on one issue, my relationship with my dad, which even though he’s been dead for years, I still felt some tender sensitivity and pain about. I liked doing it slowly and deeply like this. Sometimes at Katie’s workshops, there just isn’t time to really go deep with my own stuff. This was satisfying and memorable. I feel like I got the process in my bones and now find myself asking, “Is that true?” and “What happens when I believe that thought?” Just noticing…

I have turned over that rock and examined the ground under it, the creepy-crawlies, the shadow, took a good thorough look, and then put the rock back and moved on.

Of course there are more rocks to investigate, but I can see that each time I do inquiry, the remaining rocks are perhaps fewer, lighter, and smaller.

And wow. Would I ever like to get to the bottom of how I create my own suffering with my thinking! That would require a lot of discernment. Speaking of which, this great quote on that topic came up today on Tricycle Daily Dharma:

The fundamental aim of Buddhist practice is not belief; it’s enlightenment, the awakening that takes place when illusion has been overcome. It may sound simple, but it’s probably the most difficult thing of all to achieve. It isn’t some kind of magical reward that someone can give you or that a strong belief will enable you to acquire. The true path to awakening is genuine discernment; it’s the very opposite of belief. ~ Trinlay Tulku Rinpoche, “The Seeds of Life”

So yeah. Enlightenment comes through examining illusion, that is, using inquiry and discerning the truth. This is how it works in real life.

In filling out the worksheet, I went back to the last years I lived at home, when I was in high school, and how it was then between my father and me. I remembered yearning for his positive personal attention, and it never even crossing my mind to just ask him for it! Because “we didn’t do that in our family,” it wasn’t even in my realm of possibilities back then.

I am so grateful to have busted out of that prison. I’m not sure when that happened.  At some point, I gained the quality of brashness. It usually works, too.

I think it’s a great idea for people to ask for attention when you need it. If the person who is asked can give it, fine, and if not, fine. There are always others, and of course, there’s the self. Doing The Work is a fine way to relate to the self. Quality time.

My relationship with my father, which transcends his death, has expanded. It’s become lighter and broader. I can consider other possibilities for his behavior than the narrow, joyless ones I laid on him.

This opens me up too. My hurting self, the wounded child, has healed (at least about this topic). It’s a memory now, in the past.

After having done the work, it doesn’t matter whether my father did or didn’t have Asperger’s Syndrome. That’s only a concept, just a theory to explain his behavior.

When I ask, “How do I react, what happens, when I think that thought?” I realize that it just doesn’t matter that much to me. I wonder more how he would have reacted had he known, fully aware that whatever I think is idle speculation, just opinion. It was his business, not mine.

I like to think that if he wanted help with it, which he never asked for, I would have gladly been willing to give it.

Just like he would have been glad to give me more attention, if I had asked for it.

People are like that, aren’t we.

Boundaries checklist for healthy relationships

Relationships : A Checklist on Boundaries in a Relationship.

I believe I have posted this before, but if I haven’t, here it is now. It contrasts relationships where you give up your boundaries and when your boundaries are intact. I’ve found it helpful and bookmarked it.

It includes skills like being clear about your preferences and acting on them (I heard Byron Katie say she’s constantly asking herself what she wants), doing more when it gets results, trusting your own intuition, and only being satisfied when you are thriving (rather than coping and surviving).

Some items that I’m resonating with now:

  • Having a personal standard, albeit flexible, that applies to everyone and asks for accountability.
  • Are strongly affected by your partner’s behavior and take it as information.
  • Let yourself feel anger, say “ouch” and embark upon a program of change.
  • Honor intuitions and distinguish them from wishes.
  • Mostly feel secure and clear.
  • Are living a life that mostly approximates what you always wanted for yourself.
  • Decide how, to what extent, and how long you will be committed.

About the last one, I’m liking the new law in Mexico City that allows time-limited marriages. The couple agrees how long they want to be married. The minimum is two years. When the time is up, they either go their separate ways without divorcing or remarry for another period of time.

Love that idea. Wouldn’t it be great to have no more expensive, difficult, embittered divorces? To have a built-in time to reassess how well a relationship is going and together decide whether and for how long to continue it without getting involved with lawyers and courts?

That’s civilized, in my opinion.

~~~

Aug. 20, 2013

I’m adding another resource to this post, which continues to get views long after its original posting. It’s an article about toxic relationship habits that most people think are normal.

The article points out:

…part of the problem is that many unhealthy relationship habits are baked into our culture. We worship romantic love — you know, that dizzying and irrational romantic love that somehow finds breaking china plates on the wall in a fit of tears somewhat endearing — and scoff at practicality or unconventional sexualities. Men and women are raised to objectify each other and to objectify the relationships they’re in. Thus our partners are often seen as assets rather than someone to share mutual emotional support.

A lot of the self help literature out there isn’t helpful either (no, men and women are notfrom different planets, you over-generalizing prick.) And for most of us, mom and dad surely weren’t the best examples either.

Fortunately, there’s been a lot of psychological research into healthy and happy relationships the past few decades and there are some general principles that keep popping up consistently that most people are unaware of or don’t follow.

Here’s the link: 6 Toxic Relationship Habits that Most People Think Are Normal. 

 

Tips for talking to men/women, from Elephant Journal

10 Key Strategies for Talking to (Wo)men. {NSFWish} | elephant journal.

Loved this down-to-earth approach to getting yourself out there and meeting new people, in service of developing a meaningful relationship. Thanks, Waylon!

This blogger’s life…

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted a catch-up post about what is going on in this blogging woman’s life. Rather than blogging about some topic, I thought I’d share a slice of my life. Meet the blogger, if you haven’t already.

Massage school, test, license. You probably know that in my pursuit of health and happiness, I enrolled in massage school last summer. Well, I finished my internship on February 10 and completed the paperwork and fee-paying the following week to get my transcript. Then I holed up with books to study for the National Certification Exam for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork.

I took the test on Feb. 25. It was very hard. I got to a place where I knew I’d done the best I could. There were maybe a dozen questions out of 160 that I was clueless on and quite a few more that required my best guesstimate.

I turned it in after 2 hours and 10 minutes (20 minutes short of the maximum time), and 5 minutes later learned I’d passed.

Whew and yay! I’ve been a good test-taker in the past, and it had been many years since I took a test of that sort, the GRE for grad school. It’s good to know I still got that mojo, and I sure don’t want to do that again. Immediately after getting the results, my mind began to let go of all that information. Damn, my brain was full! It’s still there in my unconscious mind, accessible when I need it.

I’ve applied for a Texas state license, and it will take a few weeks to get it. Then I become Mary Ann Reynolds, LMT. (If I wish, I can add NCTMB to that.)

I’m continuing to practice massage in my Spartan trailer. Have now done 168. It’s said that it takes 200 massages to really get your hands minimally educated in the art of massage. I’m counting toward that milestone, and then I won’t be keeping track any more.

Going back to work. Meanwhile, my savings are running very low. I’m going to do some contract technical writing for a few months to replenish my coffers and bankroll starting a full-time private bodywork/changework practice. I’ve been looking for a short-term contract job since January and am currently being considered for eight such jobs in the Austin area. It’s been slow hearing back, but finally, I’m online to start a short-term editing contract, possibly followed by a technical writing contract. Thank you, Universe.

I’ve really enjoyed this time of not having to go to work! Of learning and practicing massage being my work. I’m looking forward to the time when that’s all I do. When I asked myself the question of what kind of work would I love to do even if I didn’t get paid, healing touch came to mind. Of course, I will get paid for it, which makes it even juicier!

So even though I am going to back to technical writing for a few months, it’s temporary.

And while I am working as a technical writer, I’ll still be doing a few massages each week during evenings and weekends to keep in practice and segue into my right livelihood.

Getting sick. So… the stress of studying for and taking the test, being broke, and the slow job search took a toll. Add to that some emotional difficulties, and I got sick last week. It’s been up and down — not really ill, but not feeling like my usual buoyant, energetic, resilient self consistently. It’s been part emotional, part energetic, part physical, like a mild stomach virus coupled with a sea change in my life. Times of not being able to get warm enough, of belly aches and no appetite (I’ve lost a few pounds), of needing extra rest, taking naps, going to bed early — mixed with life as usual, running errands, spending the day with my daughter when she had surgery, going to dance.

This past Monday, I went to South Austin Community Acupuncture — my first time there — after a week of illness, to receive sliding scale treatment on short notice. (My regular acupuncturist whom I see every couple of months, Patrice, is rarely able to get me in quickly. They take walk-ins at SACA.)

It was awesome! After the intake and interview, I was led to a room with 9 sheet-covered recliners, dim lighting, and very low soothing music playing. The acupuncturist read my pulses and looked at my tongue. I rolled my pants up to my knees and pulled my shirt up a little. He put some needles in my legs and feet, also at my waistline and key points on my head. Then I just laid back and let the needles do their work.

After about 45 minutes, I felt great. My energy felt healthy and balanced again. The acupuncturist took the needles out, and I felt better than I had in days. That lasted for several days.

Emotional distress. It’s painful but here’s my best shot at being quick, accurate, and kind about my experience: I dated someone for a couple of months. I really, really liked him, and he did some things that shocked me. We broke up (he really scared me), and we tried to be friends (he scared me again).

I put our friendship on hold because I need friends whom I trust, who treat me well, who disclose what needs to be disclosed in a gentle, kind, and trustworthy manner.

I desire to move toward loving relationships with healthy, grown-up men and women. I desire to feel valued and emotionally/physically safe with those who surround me.

I have compassion for what I know of that he’s been through and respect his path toward a healthy life. I know it’s tough. I appreciate how much he did open to up me and all the great qualities he has. I’m grateful for the times we shared that were good. I hope I made a positive difference in his life. I wish him well.

Yesterday I saw a therapist/shaman/friend who worked with me on undoing these emotional disturbances. We did left eye/right eye/cross-hemisphere work using visualizations. We also did some classic NLP. It was  fun, amazing, and effective. We untriggered these disturbing memories. I also decided to learn to stop pointing and use my whole hand as an indicator instead.

This morning I was struggling to awaken, feeling really exhausted. I felt the presence of an angel loving me energetically. A visitation! It was so awesome and so welcome after the difficult emotions of dealing with this. Thank you, angel. Please come back!

Changes to blog. I’m interested in monetizing my work, having started and maintained this blog as a labor of love for free for over two years now and spent many, many, many hours on writing posts.

I’ve decided to join the Internet economy. I added a Donation button after seeing one on some other WP blogs. Why not? If something I share is worth something to you and you’d like to show that monetarily, it’s one way of reciprocating.

I also love your likes and comments and subscriptions!

Daughters, hospitals, trust, relating

I’m sitting in a chair in a hospital. Next to me is my daughter’s boyfriend, P. My daughter, L, is lying on a portable hospital bed with us in this little pre-op cubicle, waiting to go into surgery. The TV is on — cartoons.

L is a nurse, and she’s saying what a good job the nurse here did of putting in her IV. She’s marveling at the paper hospital gown that is more like fabric than paper, that can actually have warm air blown into it should she desire it. I marvel too.

Me? I’m out of my element. I avoid hospitals as much as I can. I’ve dropped stuff off for my daughter at the hospital where she works a few times, but other than those quick visits, it takes something like this to get me into a hospital. (God forbid I should ever need hospital services. I’m planning not to. I’m going to be healthy for a long time and when I’ve used up my full life, I plan to die lucidly, painlessly, and with dignity. Like doctors die.)

I’m watching L and her boyfriend. He’s holding her hand, stroking it. I see how they talk and smile at each other, how they enjoy each other and laugh easily. The affection is palpable. There is trust there, and love.

Now she’s telling me about her anxiety dream last night where they were making her eat little Tupperware containers with little plastic dinosaurs as part of her surgery. She thinks it’s from seeing a commercial about gummy vitamins for grownups.

Now we’re watching Spongebob Squarepants, with subtitles. So unfunny. I know it dates me, but I really like the cartoons from the good ol’ days, like Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Bullwinkle, even Popeye.

I ask her to turn the volume down. Silence. Thank you. We listen to the sounds of the hospital. It’s 6:55 am. Bright lights, people doing their jobs, preparing patients for surgery. Anesthesiologist came around to introduce himself, ask questions. Then the OR nurse.

The patient in the next cubicle has been wheeled away to the OR. L is probably next. I tell her I’m scared and ask if she is too. She says yes. I say:

It’s like I have to surrender to a higher power.

Yes. I do. This is out of my hands.

I hug her, my baby, my only child, who wrapped her tiny fingers around my little finger shortly after birth and entered my heart forever. I tell her I love her and kiss her on her cheek. I can’t help but tear up just a little. She tells me:

Don’t make me cry. It’s going to be all right, Mama.

The daughter becomes the mother. I love that.

Now we’re laughing because I told her I have to take a drug test for a temp job. I remind her that the last time I did anything was taking a hit of pot at her birthday party last May. We doubt that will show up on the drug test.

She thinks Spongebob is funny — sometimes.

Now the topic is politics, the GOP war on women. She tells me she encountered this awesome saying:

If the fetus that you fought to save grows up to be gay, would you still fight for its rights?

Then she tells me this is why she watches cartoons.

I’m glad to have this laptop, this blog, to have something to do besides just wait and feel. If I was feeling, it would be anxiety. Okay, it is anxiety.

The surgeon is here now. He’s older, a bit weathered, about my age. I’m relieved. He’s experienced. He’s serious, not jokey. I like that in a surgeon. He tells P and me that he’ll see us in a couple of hours. It’s 7:20.

I hug and kiss her again. The anesthesiologist puts the knock-out drugs into her IV. She says she’s high. Then her eyes close. I kiss her hand. She’s out. They immediately wheel her away. P marvels about her arm going flaccid. He has never seen or experienced the effects of anesthesia before.

P and I are back in the original waiting room, each with our laptops. There’s a TV blaring about rush hour traffic, weather, etc. Early morning programming. It’s now 7:22. I pretty much dislike television. I ask the receptionist if I can turn the volume down. No one is paying attention, and I can’t stand gratuitous noise, especially right now. She gives me the remote, and I turn it down. Yay.

Trust has been a topic on my mind lately, what it takes to trust another person. You can like someone, enjoy them, have compassion for them, and yet just not quite trust them.

Sometimes people withhold essential information about themselves. It’s not that they’re lying. They may have revealed some tender vulnerabilities, while concealing others.

Doesn’t everyone want to trust and be trusted by a select few? To have a safe circle of people with whom you can relax and be yourself? To have at least one person in your life that you can count on and be close to?

People not accustomed to trusting others can do things that hurt, scare, and freak others out. I don’t want to believe they intend this. Not only is building relationships new, sometimes they carry ghosts from past experiences with them.

It seems to me that trust is constantly built with every encounter. It’s a process. Sometimes it’s so deeply ingrained, it’s part of the fabric of relating and makes relating flow easily.

Sometimes a lot of time between encounters is the best medicine when affection exists but trust isn’t there. Trust can sometimes be rebuilt when the people and the timing are right.

Rarely, sadly, people I once was close to have become somebody I used to know because trust left the building. Watch this creative depiction of the pain of that.

 

Forgiving is not about the other. It’s about you and your heart. We talked about forgiving at my 4th way book group last night, about how to forgive. One way that I like is to imagine that you have already forgiven. Keep imagining that and eventually you cross over to the other river. I’m working on that.

I’m upset that what I believe should have been disclosed clearly, cleanly, up front, wasn’t, and I’m working with the best pro I know on unhooking these recent fearful, painful experiences in my own psyche. I want forgiveness and inner peace for myself. I’m ready to move on.

Okay, now I have to get up and move. Going to the cafeteria across the street to get breakfast.

Hospitals don’t have really healthy food. You’d think so, but no. Nothing is organic. Of course, none of the delicious-looking breakfast baked goods are gluten-free. I settle on scrambled eggs, bacon, hash browns, sweetened ice tea. I’m not gonna think too hard about the quality of this food. I’m hungry.

As I walk back across the street to the surgery center, I think,

My daughter’s in that building somewhere, in an operating room, unconscious under general anesthesia, and people I don’t know have cut into her body to make it work better. God give them peak skills. God be with us all.

I eat, sitting next to P. We talk about our hopes and fears.

A nurse calls us to come meet with the surgeon. It’s half an hour sooner than we’ve been told the surgery would take. This makes me feel afraid.

P and I sit in a little cubicle waiting for the surgeon. I tell him how I like that the surgeon was serious. P tells me his dad was a surgeon in Poland who has practiced various forms of medicine, including teaching basic medicine to African villagers and also teaching flight medicine in the U.S.

We both cross our fingers on both hands and look at each other.

Then the surgeon walks briskly toward us. A no-nonsense man. He makes eye contact and immediately says that everything went well.

Whew. Thank you, God.

He explains what he did in layman’s words. I reach out to shake his hand and tell him I prayed. His grip is very strong. His eyes light up, he cracks a bit of a smile, and he says he appreciates the prayer, because it helps. He and P shake hands. P and I go back to the waiting room. L is in recovery and will be perhaps able to go home about noon. It is now 8:57 a.m.

At 9:45, P is called to the front desk. She’s awake enough for one visitor at a time. He goes back to be with her. Then it’s my turn. She is so groggy, and with unstyled hair, no makeup, and her glasses on, she looks about 15.

I hang out with her as she removes an ice bag and fusses with the oxygen feed at her nose. They’ve inflated the paper hospital gown with warm air!

Her speech is slow and slurred, her movements slow and weak. She’s still high as a kite.

She falls back asleep. I hold her hand, images of her at various ages popping into mind. I marvel at how her hair has changed from blonde duck down as an infant to dark thick brown now, at the skinny scabby-kneed tomboy who’s become this smart, likable young woman. I watch her vital signs on the monitor.

She sleeps, snoring lightly. I feel reiki flowing through me into her hand and begin to give reiki consciously, hands intuitively moving to crown, neck, shoulders, chest, heart, abdomen, hands. I stand erect to facilitate the flow. I close my eyes and let this prayer of gratitude and love happen.

I’m given paperwork to read and sign about aftercare. The nurse takes her off oxygen and tells her she can get dressed now. I give her my hand to help her sit up and help her get dressed. There’s some unexpected bleeding; I call the nurse back; she bandages it and says it’s happens about half the time.

She can go home. We leave. Once home, goofball that she is, she makes a video of herself talking so she can later see how fucked up she was.

Life. Change. Growth. Love.

my personal guesthouse

i’m typing this post with my right hand, cradling my laptop in my left, because my bee-yoo-tiful purry, furry cat mango has claimed the real estate that is my lap — no room for the laptop.

cat love is so good. mango, i love you! and yes, i know it’s not quite unconditional love like a dog’s love, but i am so grateful for it. the furry orange prince mango comforts and soothes.

i am grateful for every bit of love that has come my way, ever. when i think of all the streams of love energy (affection, attention, positive regard, laughter, eye contact, smiles, support, kindness, help, teachings, advice, loving touch in its many forms, love from a distance, and countless other ways), that have pierced my energy field in all my years of life on this planet, whether i was aware of it or not, i am especially humbled and full of gratitude for being part of this 7 billion strong tribe of odd-looking, ungainly (especially compared to cats) mammals called human beings who love.

maybe not all the time, but we humans do love. we. love. we love.

love rules the emotions. it conquers all. love > fear — someone recently gave me that bumper sticker celebrating her recovery from cancer. thank you. it’s very handy to have that reminder.

when a relationship changes direction, as i recently experienced, i become a guesthouse for all the emotions passing through, the feelings stirred from having taken a risk and opened my heart to someone i really, really liked a lot, and then needing to find a way to change my way of relating.

i’m actually not sure of the distinction between really, really liking someone a lot and loving them. loving seems to be the scarier word for some, so maybe fear is the only distinction. not for me. i use the word love a lot.

i realized early on that i wanted to love this man, that it would hurt me not to open my heart. sometimes you just know that you need take the risk. you see who they are and where they’ve come from and what it took to get here, and it moves you. you look at their face and can see their young self shining through, and you adore that self and the current self struggling to find the light and sometimes finding it.

i’m glad i opened my heart, even though hurt is one of the horde of emotions flooding through the door of the guesthouse today, along with appreciation, respect, admiration, fear, sadness, doubt, relief, grief, dismay, disappointment, pride in both of us for coming to this conclusion and moving through with it, deeply grateful for time and space to process on my own and for him knowing i’d need that, vulnerability, gratitude for having been seen/heard/felt and for all the laughter and loving touch.

and a sudden hindsight about a comment that i puzzled over, more awareness of how i relate, recognition that i wasn’t looking or ready for this and that’s okay because i will be more awake the next time love knocks, that mental penetration to truth that i enjoy so much when it happens, awe that two people can manage to communicate at all about anything that really matters, understanding that he and i have really different values about certain things, recognition of both our foolishness and our bravery.

and feeling shot for unwittingly bearing a message that scared him, a lot of compassion for us both, eye-rolling exasperation about some of his expectations and thinking, some real anger, recognizing a man’s gonna do what a man’s gonna do, seeing foolishness (and not just his), remembering how much i looked forward to seeing him and realizing it wasn’t enough time to really jell, tragic, managed, dogged fix-myself-ology, hope, perspective, acceptance, happiness that it happened.

and excitement and anticipation about what amazing new relationship could possibly come next and what i now bring to the table for having had this experience, great insights into timing, awareness that this experience is cooking me in some great mysterious way, respectful for whatever he might be thinking and feeling during this time, a bit of worry for him, hope for him, a desire for him to succeed too, wanting to let go of wanting to fix anyone or anything, and a beautiful vision of a new and different relationship between two amazing people who really, really like each other continuing to be present and open in a friendship that contributes to each other’s lives and benefits all sentient beings.

i don’t know if that will happen, if that’s my idealism, or if baggage, shadows, or egos will get in the way, or even if there’s mutual interest. but it’s my fantasy, and i get to have it.

i don’t usually post such personal writing, but this topic of love and change is so personal and universal. may this writing benefit you, and all sentient beings.

my heart chakra already feels so much better for having written this, for greeting all those guests, and the traffic through the guesthouse is already slowing to a trickle of visitors whom i can spend quality time with.

as within, so without. here’s the original poem by rumi.

The Guesthouse by Rumi

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

Each moment, life as it is, the only teacher: quotes from Joko Beck

Charlotte Joko Beck died yesterday, very peacefully, at the age of 94. She was a Zen teacher who made a major impact on American Buddhism.

Here’s a link to her obituary, a note from her dharma heir Barry Magid, and a remembrance by a long-time friend.

And here’s a link to an article that puts her work into perspective:

The Ordinary Mind School was among the first Zen communities to consciously engage the emotional life and the shadows of the human mind as Zen practice. The late Charlotte Joko Beck and her dharma heirs  adapted elements of the vipassana tradition — a relentless inquiry into the contours of the human mind—as unambiguous Zen discipline.

Here are some quotes from her:

With unfailing kindness, your life always presents what you need to learn. Whether you stay home or work in an office or whatever, the next teacher is going to pop right up.

Caught in the self-centered dream, only suffering;
holding to self-centered thoughts, exactly the dream;
each moment, life as it is, the only teacher;
being just this moment, compassion’s way.

Enlightenment is not something you achieve. It is the absence of something. All your life you have been going forward after something, pursuing some goal. Enlightenment is dropping all that.

Wisdom is to see that there is nothing to search for. If you live with a difficult person, that’s nirvana. Perfect. If you’re miserable, that’s it. And I’m not saying to be passive, not to take action; then you would be trying to hold nirvana as a fixed state. It’s never fixed, but always changing. There is no implication of ‘doing nothing.’ But deeds done that are born of this understanding are free of anger and judgment. No expectation, just pure and compassionate action.

Practice is just hearing, just seeing, just feeling. This is what Christians call the face of God: simply taking in this world as it manifests. We feel our body; we hear the cars and birds. That’s all there is.

Life always gives us exactly the teacher we need at every moment. This includes every mosquito, every misfortune, every red light, every traffic jam, every obnoxious supervisor (or employee), every illness, every loss, every moment of joy or depression, every addiction, every piece of garbage, every breath. Every moment is the guru.

So a relationship is a great gift, not because it makes us happy – it often doesn’t – but because any intimate relationship, if we view it as practice, is the clearest mirror we can find.

Practice can be stated very simply. It is moving from a life of hurting myself and others to a life of not hurting myself and others. That seems so simple — except when we substitute for real practice some idea that we should be different or better than we are, or that our lives should be different from the way they are. When we substitute our ideas about what should be (such notions as “I should not be angry or confused or unwilling”) for our life as it truly is, then we’re off base and our practice is barren.

We have to face the pain we have been running from. In fact, we need to learn to rest in it and let its searing power transform us.

We learn in our guts, not just in our brain, that a life of joy is not in seeking happiness, but in experiencing and simply being the circumstances of our life as they are; not in fulfilling personal wants, but in fulfilling the needs of life.

Meditation is not about some state, it is about the meditator.

Zen practice isn’t about a special place or a special peace, or something other than being with our life just as it is. It’s one of the hardest things for people to get: that my very difficulties in this very moment are the perfection… When we are attached to the way we think we should be or the way we think anyone else should be, we can have very little appreciation of life as it is…whether or not we commit physical suicide, if our attachment to our dream remains unquestioned and untouched, we are killing ourselves, because our true life goes by almost unnoticed.