Lately I have felt like I have been living under and endless stream of clouds. Winter has certainly taken its toll. But clouds unlike the light which shines behind them, are impermanent, no matter how long they may linger. But more importantly they are deceptive, and when we look up and only see cloudy skies, we must keep looking until we see the whole truth. The Sun does not go up or down, in or out, it is always shining, always bright, always in its appropriate place in the Universe. The light is never dispelled, only hidden at times by obstructions both natural and manmade. No matter what direction we look, if our vision is big enough, wide enough, high enough, we must and we will eventually, discover the light.
“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”.
I have always cared deeply about things and have always found myself attracted to others who do as well. I have no patience for complacency or indifference. I feel deeply about things, especially individual and personal freedoms and inherent rights of all sentient beings to live authentically without fear of government or religious institutions interference or retribution; I revere Beauty and Creativity; the Mystery I first discovered at the age of seven and continue to about the Nature of the Universe, Life, and Love. I made a choice at the young age of seven, rather than seek to understand any of It as if I or anyone could actually possess such understanding, to remain blissfully ignorant of any explanation just to sit in Its company.
I feel deeply about the personal responsibility we all share to ourselves, our families, friends, neighbors, our ancestors who made supreme sacrifices for all of us to live and enjoy this life, and most of all our children. I believe that the only legacy worth having in the end will be to have lived my lifetime doing whatever I can, wherever I can, however I can, to insure that the same rights, freedoms, beauty, and opportunities afforded me by the Mystery some call God and the brave citizens of our World yesterday and today who “Prepare the Supreme Meal” and make the “Supreme Sacrifice”, living my life as a Benefit for others and a responsible Caretaker of these gifts including the Whole of Nature.
Enlightenment, is to live one’s life at the level of full self-expression. The work of “being spiritual” is to discover who I am and realize my true self. The first step toward Enlightenment begins with the realization that, “Who I think I am is not” that the self I call “myself” is conditional or what Buddhist call “the conditioned self” and is not my “true self”. This self is who I have come to identify with after years of cultural, social, religious and political conditioning, including the most unyielding of all false identifications, identification with my parents. My happiness as well as my emotional and psychological maturity and well-being is dependent on distinguishing between this self I call myself which is conditional, and who I truly am. Our hearts will remain restless until we do.
In his book, “The Book of Awakening” Mark Nepo quotes Parker J. Palmer who writes, “The spiritual life is about becoming more at home in your own skin.” Nepo says, “The aim of all spiritual paths, no matter their origin or the rigors of their practice, is to help us live more fully in the lives we are given.” This is contrary to most contemporary spiritual approaches which are too often rooted in emotional greed, resentment, or what Chogyam Trungpa called, “Spiritual Materialism”.
There is another saying older than Palmers, “When the student is ready the teacher appears.” Here the reference to the “teacher” may or may not necessarily be a person. We are to understand that, “Life” as it is showing up in our lives and in the world is “the teacher”. As a young Catholic I remember the Sisters and Priests often saying, “God never gives us more than we can handle.” If both sayings are true, and I believe they are, then the only matter left is whether or not the student is going to attend class.
“In the domain of Spirit, potential is not achieved by how much we know or believe, neither is it realized by the level of empathy or compassion we may feel toward others, or by how sincere we may be. Potential is achieved by our willingness to train regularly and the quality of our “steadfastness”, which is measured only in “times of trouble”, and requires that we come down from the mountaintop, because no one achieves their potential up on the mountaintop.”
– Seijaku Roshi
Authentic Spirituality is for the long distance runner only. It is for those who by the time they take to running the race have resolved for themselves “never to give up”, to stay “steadfast” even if it means I come in last, I finish the race. But not just finish the race, rather I finish the race with all the integrity, honesty, and commitment of a true warrior. I don’t let difficulty dissuade me, the allure of escape distract me, or the fear of failure motivate me. The runner of the race has trained for many years, changed his or her poor habits, and yes sacrificed much just for the sake of running the race. He or she is mature enough to know that difficulty will come, it is expected but as long as we train regularly, have the right coach, and a strong heart, we will meet the challenges with “all victorious mastery”.