Are You Ready?
“When the student is ready the teacher will appear.” I’ve thought a great deal about that and how it sounds a little like a saying that showed up in the 70’s, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.” – And everyone I knew began procrastinating. The previous quote is actually a koan. Like all koans it is designed to “not make any rational sense, and are used to ‘blow the minds’ of trainee monks in order to trigger their enlightenment.” If you read it and interpret its meaning as it is, the problem with that is that after forty-one years teaching it is my experience that, “The student is never ready,” and that any lesson of any value, any lesson that is really transformative always appears as a kind of “inconvenient truth”. God knows we don’t like to be inconvenienced.
The way most of us live our lives, making choices, or committing to anything is usually a function of how we feel at the moment. If I were to do much of what I do let’s say just in the course of one day, according to how I feel, I wouldn’t accomplish much. The first thing to realize is that our “feelings” about the moment are often unreliable and have nothing to do with this present moment. They are almost 100% of the time connected to some past (unresolved issue) experience. Relying on my feelings and I would include my opinions and points-of-view, as well as the beliefs I have formed about my life, is like relying on the other person to change before I can be happy.
Certainly the student should “be ready to learn,” but what does that really mean; To “be ready” to learn? When are we “ready”? Again I have found that we are never really ever ready for those transformative lessons in life. Those lessons are either always heaped upon us at any unexpected and sudden moment or, we decide to apply what I always call “Nike Buddhism” or “Nike Zen” if you prefer: We learn to “Just do it”.
Every teacher has a lesson to teach and every one of those lessons can be transformative, according to the level of sincerity of the student to learn. To be sincere, to really want to learn, what Suzuki Roshi called, having a “Beginners Mind,” one does not have to be ready for anything. One simply needs to engage. Engage the teacher and the practice or training, with our rawness, our wounds, our failures, our successes, and an open heart and mind, committing 100% or I prefer 150% to be “a vessel for learning and transformation.” People often argue with me that no one could be 150%. I usually ask them, “How do you know? Most people don’t even know what it means to be 100%.”
Instead of worrying about whether this is the right teacher or spiritual path for me or not, we should be cultivating whole-hearted devotion with courage, faith, honesty and yes you will need all your doubts and fears as well. Drop anchor! Stay when it is blissful, stay when it is scary as hell. Like the Buddha under the Bodhi Tree, no matter what Mara threw at him, He stayed. I often tell my students, “That line you keep retreating from every time you get scared or uncomfortable or disappointed, Enlightenment is always right on the other side.”
We keep trying to find the solutions to life’s problems with the same mindset we created them with. Einstein called this “Insanity”. The first step toward Enlightenment or Transformation is to open ourselves to doing it differently than the way we’ve done it and gotten ourselves stuck in dissatisfaction. When you examine the way we usually do it once agin, we tend to make choices and decisions based on our conditioning, our expectations and, our feelings. We enter the classroom to learn a lesson we’ve never learned before possibly for the very first time, more likely for the one-hundredth time, presuming “we know how to get there.” So when the teacher speaks or behaves in ways we don’t like or if he or she expects us to “grow” (which is always about moving beyond our comfort zones), we pull up anchor and go a sailing again on the open seas of “the pursuit of happiness”.
There is a saying, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” True but have you ever asked yourself why? Change is the very essence of life, without it we die. This is true for humans and all lifeforms. The icon of spirituality is the butterfly. If the caterpillar never stops to change, it never transforms and takes flight. Both its beauty and its ability to fly is dependent on changing. Yet most of us resist the very notion of “changing” as if, if we do change we will most certainly fail to ever be fully alive. Wrong! If we don’t change the way we have always been doing it we most certainly never will be fully alive. We will find ourselves paralyzed, perpetually stuck in dissatisfaction and endlessly pursuing happiness and never ever fully alive.
Change is essential and the first obligation any student has in order to learn and grow and to transform is to be willing to change. This is the real reason we quit, pull up anchor, and run. There is no lesson learned without change, and without change we never see beyond our own limitations into the “infinite possibilities” born only of change.
Only those who know suffering can know the depth of real joy. Only the warrior can fully appreciate and know the depth of real peace. I have neither the patience or the tolerance of any teacher who either has never known real suffering or loss or, who is always offering peace, bliss, and the kingdom of heaven or nirvana, and who has never been to hell. Beware of snake oil salespersons. They are as old as the ages.
Charlotte Joko Beck once wrote, “Enlightenment is not something you achieve. It is the absence of something. All your life you have been going forward after something, pursing some goal. Enlightenment is dropping all that. But to talk about it is of little use. The practice has to be done by each individual. There is no substitute. We can read about it until we are a thousand years old and it won’t do a thing for us. We all have to practice, and we have to practice with all of our might for the rest of our lives.”
This is what it really means to “be ready”. We need to stop talking about how life is this or life is that. We need to stop making excuses as to why we don’t have enough time to live. We have to realize that we are never going to stop being afraid unless we face whatever it is we are afraid of, and that is a lifetime of work because you and I have been afraid for a lifetime. We are never going to get to a place when it all comes together inside us and we can say, “Now I am ready.” It doesn’t work that way. We need to start from right where we are right here and now. This is where you begin. Right here right where you are. Cultivate within yourself the desire only to be a “vessel for learning and transformation,” and then engage, and then and only then, the Teacher will appear and class can begin.
I Love you,