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July 14, 2017

Holding Sacred Space

by Seijaku Roshi

Every morning whenever I enter the Zendo (meditation hall) at 4:00 AM, I enter a “sacred space,” but not for the reasons that may seem obvious to some. A Zendo and a Zen Monastery for that matter is a reflection, an outer representation, of the hearts and minds of those who occupy it. While it is designed to be a place for training the mind-body toward “awakening,” and “transformation,” those in training already possess everything needed to achieve this lifetime, sometimes arduous challenge, even though they may not know it when first entering.

Zen spirituality, including meditation and mindfulness training is about what I call “creating space”. It has very little if nothing at all to do with transcending or escaping the world’s problems, stresses, and anxieties. Quite the opposite, it has everything to do with creating space or to “Hold Space” for oneself and the world, including all the stuff our ego prefers averting and avoiding. The Buddha taught that, the heart and soul of the Buddha-Way is “friendship.” Authentic Spirituality is about “making friends with ourselves, with others, and with the world,” as we; and they; and the world is, rather than some idealistic notion about the way the world should be. This does not exclude engaging in efforts toward making the world more loving or kind. For me the question surrounding our efforts is always about, “How do we best do that?”

Thomas Merton wrote, “Disinterested love is also called the ‘love of friendship,’ that is to say a love which rests in the good of the beloved, not in one’s own interest or satisfaction, not in one’s own pleasure.  A love which does not exploit, manipulate, even by ‘serving,’ but which simply ‘loves.’  A love which… simply ‘loves because it loves’ and for no other reason or purpose, and is therefore perfectly free…” Everyone talks about love, but few really love themselves let alone others. Perhaps it is because we have become confused about how to love. Merton says to us that, “Holding Space” for ourselves and others is love.

Love has to do with “being present” in a very clear and specific way. St. Paul wrote that, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” In other words, to “Hold Space” is “presence without criticism or judgement,” without wanting to alter or manipulate, or having the moment this way or that way. It’s about just “Holding Space,” in the way a loving Mother or Father may hold their small child confused or maybe afraid at the moment. Perhaps not even a single word spoken and yet the child feels relieved and encouraged, safe, and appreciated.

Holding Space for ourselves in meditation and in mindfulness practice is about holding ourselves just the way we are and allowing whatever to show up during the meditation to just show up. There is nothing we need to do with it. We simply hold it in our hearts and minds to be “fully experienced” while we are a safe, non-judgmental, or critical bearer or, witness to it. We then can learn from the experience and using what we learned, move on. The ground for meditating in this “better way” has to do with, whether we feel it at the time or not, “unconditionally loving ourselves”. As a parent, or Father, of an 8 year old daughter, since the day she was born I have adored her. I expect that there is nothing she can ever do to change that. She is not perfect in her behavior anymore than her Father is, and like the words of St. Paul, I do not “keep a record of her wrongs.” Every moment, every day she is with me I remain mindful of my “adoration,” especially when her behavior may not warrant it. Likewise in Zen we train to hold ourselves and others in the same way. I learned a long time ago through my personal suffering that, “Everyone is just trying to get through the night.” The most common thing we share as human beings is “suffering,” and in order to free ourselves from suffering and its causes, we can never forget that. While we remind ourselves of it everyday it becomes the ground for any skillfulness we ever expect to develop.

Jizo-an Zendo is a sacred space only because when one or more occupy it, it is a “safe place” a “place of refuge.” There alone during Early Dawn Meditation and Prayer, I hold myself and my Community, and all sentient beings, in my heart and in my mind. Without criticism or judgement I “Hold Space,” and I pray, “by the power and the truth of the Dharma of Loving-Kindness and Compassion, may all beings everywhere now and forever be free of sorrow and suffering, and the causes of sorrow and suffering. May they be content and possess the causes for contentment and abundant prosperity; May the live in peace, this is my prayer, this is my intention”.

I invite you to come and “Hold Space” with me today.

I Love You,
Seijaku Roshi

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