Thursday, May 9, 2013

Don't Call Me Boring

In response to my post titled "The Middle Way," Ted commented:

"This is dead on. I remember the majority of the Henro to be dull and monotonous. Yet when I finished, I felt that when I looked back over my life, I'd always think of it as one of my bigger achievements."

I guess i need to be more careful about my use of the word 'boring.'

According to my dictionary the definition of 'boring' is: "So lacking in interest as to cause mental weariness." While that is the word i have used on many occasions, Ted is forcing me to look at what i really mean and decide if that's the best word to use. I have decided it is not.

Rather, the word i should be using might be 'dull,' which is defined as: "Lacking in liveliness or animation," or "Not keenly felt," or "Not having a sharp edge or point," among other things. I like that and it seems much closer to what i'm trying to say about the experience on the henro trail or on the zafu. While my gut isn't happy with 'dull,' intellectually i'm content for now.

I remember way, way back when, when i was in the military, i served on submarines. For the first several cruises, i can remember laying in bed from time to time trying to come to some understanding of what boredom is and why i felt it from time-to-time, but not all of the time and not all that often. I decided that for me boredom meant no more than not being where i wanted to be. When i wasn't able to simply accept that i was underwater, and would be for a great many days more, then i felt bored when i wasn't occupied. But, since most of the time i simply accepted it as my job, one that i had volunteered to do, i was perfectly content to be where i was and boredom wasn't part of the picture. The above definition was right on for me — when i felt bored, unaccepting, there was this feeling of mental weariness.

However, this is not the case for my time on the trail. There is never a time when i feel mental weariness. I feel more alert and more aware in my boots, on the trail, than i do at home. It's similar to my mindset in my running shoes on a good day or in my bike saddle on any day. While there may be nothing of interest going on, nothing that would be considered mentally stimulating, my awareness and alertness are very, very high.

I think i should be using the word "dull" to describe my walks around the henro trail. It is an experience that is the opposite of lively, the opposite of animated, the opposite of keenly felt. There is a certain daily rhythm that you fall into if you try, mentally and physically. You are alert and moving, aware of what is happening around you (maybe more so than normal), yet there is no urgency to life, no urgency to your actions. You just become one more piece of everything around you, one more piece of the environment.

As the process starts, there is still obviously a 'me' and 'that tree,' 'that car,' 'that person,' 'out there.' Then, as the process deepens, all of those individual 'things' out there, merge and slowly things settle into just 'me' and 'everything else,' with the later being one 'thing' (for the lack of a better word). All the external differentiation has melded into one.

Then as the process continues, slowly, every so slowly, the 'me' begins to dissolve into that 'everything' and i'm left with 'everything,' but with a twist. At this stage, there is still some piece of me sitting somewhere over my shoulder noticing all of this. There is still a little piece left that has noticed that the merger is taking place and that 'Dave' is no longer separate from everything else; that Dave and everything else are all one and the same, manifesting as this over there and that over here, etc.

Then at some point that piece doing the noticing disappears. That disappearance is always completely unnoticed by Dave until something happens to pull me back into Dave's boots and Dave's head. It might start raining. A car may honk it's horn, someone may greet me, etc. At that point Dave deals with the situation and the process starts over again.

None of this is to imply that i'm a spaced out zombie when walking. Far from it. Cars are still looked for as i cross the street, henro trail markers are still looked for and noticed (usually), people that i pass are still greeted. It's just that Dave is no longer doing this, it's just happening.

The point of this? Just that boring is completely the opposite of how i would describe the henro trail — even though that is the word i mistakenly used. Yes, the experience may be called dull, but it is in no way boring. Life, when you truly experience it is not boring. Life, when you see it in it's unconditioned, unfiltered state is beautiful. Life, when you are talking about that word with a capital L, Life, and not when you are talking about that personal life you have built up and come to believe is all there is, is breathtaking.

Sorry for using the wrong word. And thanks to Ted for forcing me to be more accurate.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Boring Buddhism

Road Kill 19

Quads burning like fire
And still no one rides no bike
The wheel spins and spins

Too tired to write much, but one more thought along the lines of yesterdays post.

Walking the path is harder than it appears at first, i think. While it may seem murderously hard to give up the trappings of a materialistic life and move to a simpler life of introspection and inquiry, it can be almost as difficult to keep yourself from swinging to the other extreme once that move has been made.

For a long time, even as you walk the path, there is still a sense of 'I,' 'someone' who is 'walking' 'the path.' And because this path leads to that mystical place called enlightenment and that magical thing called nirvana, everything is an adventure. The path is a journey of discovery, seeking new states of mind, new identities, new rules to live by.

But the truth, as i said yesterday, is in that boring flatland lying between these two views. That place with nothing to see, nothing to do, no definition, and nothing to find. And this is hard to see because there is still that piece of ego firmly entrenched inside who is telling us that it has to be more than that; there has to be something i can find and define.

When i talk about giving up the search, surrendering, and giving up the chase for answers, i mean exactly that. Giving up. Surrendering. That doesn't mean giving up, but keeping a small portion of your mind working to study the current situation in order to find how it works. That doesn't mean surrendering, but keeping a small portion of your mind working to find a possible escape route. This means no more and no less than giving up. Surrendering.

Sit on your zafu and let yourself melt into all of reality as it is. Don't think about it, don't analyze it, don't try and define it, but know that as you sit there reality, all that is and all that isn't, what is before is and isn't, ... that reality is manifesting as that body you call yours on the cushion you call yours, in this time called now and that place called here. Reality is manifesting. Period.

Thoughts may come and go, but that has no bearing on what you are doing. Let them come and go without dwelling on them. Sensations may come and go. Let them come and go. Perceptions may come and go. Let them come and go. That is all part of reality. You are reality. Sitting is reality. Your zafu is reality. Everything and nothing is reality.

This path isn't about discovery and adventure, it's about letting go of discovery and adventure just as it is about letting go of me, mine, and all those things i used to define myself with. The path is about coming to understand that even though no one is riding no bike, my quads were killing me on the final couple of hills today. The path is about coming to understand that while reality is all there is when sitting on my zafu, reality is all there is when i'm calling that jerk with the dog an asshole and losing my temper.

And this is exactly why i love the henro trail on Shikoku as much as i love the henro trail on a zafu. They may seem like different places but they aren't. Shikoku for me is a two month walking meditation retreat. It's a chance to give up my ordinary life and step into reality in its wholeness. It's a chance to give up adventure and discovery and step into reality in its oneness.

The henro trail is a chance to see each moment of the day as everything. To see everything as empty yet obviously there. To see existence from outside the normal confines of time. The henro trail, for me, is that boring place where i can Be, and no more. Where Being can manifest as me, one step and one breath at a time.

There's no room for emotion here, whether that's anger and pride or exhilaration awe.

Monday, May 6, 2013

The Middle Way

Two comments from readers of a previous post.

"The 'opening up' you describe is exciting—even exhilarating! We can walk the path of life with eyes focused narrowly ahead, closing our selves off to the possibilities for discovery around us. Or, we can view the journey as an adventure in which the norm is to be surprised and we expect to 'unlearn' something in every encounter. Each piece of our old self we leave behind makes our step lighter and more joyous. How exciting is that!"


"I guess it's scary for me because I'm so incredibly entrenched in my ego. So so so entrenched. I think it is absolutely terrifying to be truly kind to people and to yourself especially, to be vulnerable, to surrender, to be open like that because it requires a rebellion against that ego, to turn away from your attachment to all the things that make you feel worthy of love. Surrendering!! that means humility, humiliation even, vulnerability, complete lack of control, etc etc."

While these may seem, at first glance, to be diametrically opposing view of our path, they have more in common that you would think when you look carefully.

The second may be where a great many people start from. When all in life is going well, when most things you encounter daily bring satisfaction, there is nothing to instigate a search for something new, a new way of living. Why change when you're already happy and content? Then, for whatever reason, something comes up and you realize that there is a piece missing in your life. It may start as no more than a nagging doubt or an irritating question, but sooner or later, if you take life seriously that question, that doubt will grow.

For the lucky ones, and i'm serious about that, the doubt will explode into a complete refusal to continue to accept life on the terms you have lived it to that date. You know something's wrong, something in the rules you have lived by seem completely out of whack. Yet, when someone tries to point out where that 'whackiness' is, that, too, seems so completely backwards that your brain revolts even more. You no longer know which way to turn. But the tipping point has been reached and you are forced to make a change, to give up the old ways.

Then there are those who have done what needed doing and find their way onto the path. After a while the new rules start to make sense. The sense of loss coming from shedding the old rules starts to fade and the new path seems like an adventure, an expedition to new lands, new cultures, new experiences accompanied by all these wonderful people who love life, who see past the materialism that pervades the lands "back there." Life on this trail can seem like a rebirth and can be exhilarating.

So what do these to ways of looking at it have in common? Both still see the world through the eyes of an individual ego. Both still see the world through a gate with 'me' on one side and the world on the other. I suppose i sound like that as well in some of my writings — words can be miserably difficult to use sometimes.

But the truth lies in between those two comments. Somewhere between the despair and exhilaration.

The path as i see it is only reached when you have finally convinced yourself that no matter how hard it will be to stop the ego's rule over your life, you commit to trying. You commit to letting yourself accept that who you are is not who most people think you are. As frightening as surrender sounds, you make the commitment. Until you do, you're stuck in hell.

You've just been fired from your job. It came out of the blue and you never saw it coming. But, it happened and you were shown to the door. As you sit at the nearby park, you rant, you rave, you scream and shout, you agonize about the injustice of it, the unfairness of it, your stomach is in knots, you can't even think straight. You swear and curse, throw sticks and stones at the closest tree. How could this be possible. They can't do this. They have no right. I was the best, everyone knows that. I was on my way up, that was obvious to all. I was highly respected by all my peers, people told me that on numerous occasions. I've never wanted to do anything but this with my life. Never. What will people say? What will my parents say? My family? My friends? Now what?

Now what?

Now what?

And slowly, acceptance starts to settle in. It has happened. Your life has changed. Who you were is no longer who you are. It's a struggle for a while, but as time passes and you realize that your family and friends haven't abandoned you, you begin to settle into a quieter life with more time to think, more time to reflect. And then someone suggests a job in a new field and after working there for a while you find you love it. You love your new life, your new opportunities, your new friends. And people begin mentioning that you are a much better friend, much better family member. A nicer person. A person people are comfortable with.

Was the original loss humbling? Of course. Was it humiliating? Of course. Frightening? Of course. Until you look back at it from the viewpoint of your new life.

But what would happen if you learned all the lessons except the ambition, the need to get ahead, the need to be the best? Then even this new life poses great risks.

The key on this path is to see that the goal isn't in the adventure. The goal isn't in giving things up. The goal isn't becoming something new. All of this will happen, of course, but not because it's something you do but because of what you don't do.

Walking this path means learning to Be. Walking this path means accepting that everything you used to think is only partially true and of partial use. Walking this path means accepting that no matter how hard it is to understand, there is no you and me, there is no in here and out there, there is no birth and death, there is no path and non-path, there is no nirvana and samsara. Walking this path means accepting that your most important daily activity, no matter what else you do, is to accept that everything you see, everything you hear, everything you taste, everything, is you.


Walking this path means learning to Be. Walking this path means coming to see that everything you think immediately takes you away from who you are. Walking this path means coming to see that everything you believe is your one-sided view and not an accurate description of who you are. Walking this path means coming to see that there are no discoveries to be made, no adventures to be had, no grand vistas to be seen. Who you are is not an experience so none of these are possible.

On one side is an irrational fear of letting go of your stories. On the other side is a walk in a more pleasant meadow but care must be taken to not try and label all the trees, flowers, and wildlife you see during your walk.

I often describe the henro trail as boring. I would describe the true path as boring as well. There is no excitement in this search. There is no excitement in following the Way. But there will be a day when you realize that having stayed on the path was the wisest thing you ever did. There is no goal, but where you end up will be a marvelous place indeed, no matter how boring it may seem to others.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Scared Yet?

In an email correspondence i've recently had with someone considering the henro trail, a couple of interesting points came up; interesting enough that i thought i'd address them here rather than in an email to one person alone.

The first point seems pretty simple, but maybe for someone finding themselves at the trail head of the path for the first time it may not be that obvious.

"Some people tell me that I don't have to go on a ridiculously long walk to find answers, that it can start now...which is true. But it is so freaking hard to escape all the NOISE and STUFF..."

One of the reasons a good teacher is of importance is for just this problem. Your friends and family, everyone you know, has an opinion and are more than willing to share it with you even though they aren't practitioners and, therefore, don't know what they are talking about. Or, only have a limited clue.

Maybe the reason people think they can tell you that you don't need to do [something] in order to find "the answers" is because they aren't asking the same questions you are. For the majority of people, "the answers" can be found in their everyday life, in the messages they receive from friends, from the television, from the radio, from newspapers & magazines. This is the old adage of grow up, get a job, start a family, and everything will take care of itself. It's worked for everyone else, hasn't it?

Has it? That's the question to ask yourself. Have those options, those sources of information, shown anyone on this path even a glimpse of an answer that seems to address the questions that rattle around in your head? The obvious answer should be no. I'm not saying that their questions and answers are wrong, i'm only pointing out that their answers are not related to the questions you may have. Unless the person you are talking to can show that they are asking the same questions you are, why would you accept their answer as relevant?

The second part of this is to say, though, that they are right. You don't need to go on a long walk to find any answers. You don't need to go to a meditation retreat to find any answers. You don't need to do anything special to find any answers. That's all true. BUT, for most people, you have to learn somewhere and, as mentioned, until you get the basics under your belt the noise and chatter of everyday life is just too much to overcome on your own. There's the radio, TV, the internet, Facebook, Twitter, mobile phones, mp3 players, ... the list goes on and on. It almost takes a superman/woman to be able to say "enough is enough" and disconnect for short periods of time on a regular basis.

It can be done, though. Lots of people do it. Daily.

Absolutely commit to a daily period of meditation, either early in the morning, as soon as you get up, or just before bed. Commit. Leave no room for doubt. Even if it's only for 5 minutes. Then once a month commit to an hour on one day. Two thirty minute sittings, four 15 minute sittings, or even six ten minute sittings, stretched throughout the day. Anytime between getting up in the morning and going back to bed that night. The key is sticking with it, not giving in to discouragement and apathy.

Do you need to go on a long walk? No, but it's a great place to start without the normal distractions. Do you need to sign up for a meditation retreat somewhere? No, but it's a great place to start. Or, just ask around until you find someone who already meditates in your town and contact them. Tell them, "listen, i'm new to this, and can't afford a full retreat anywhere, but i really want to learn to meditate. Can you teach me the basics?" Who would say no?

Later, in response to my saying, about the henro trail:

"Will it solve all the problems in your life? Will it give you all the answers you may be looking for? It certainly doesn't make problems disappear, but i personally believe all the answers are there, waiting to be found, but you have to open yourself wide enough to let them in."

Their reply was simple:

"That's scary."

I don't ever remember finding the path scary so it's hard for me to understand this point. Zen, for me, was always a no-brainer, so obviously true, so obviously pointing in the right direction, so obviously pointing to pertinent and valuable answers that it was just the obvious thing to do.

I never found it disconcerting to hear that i may not be who i thought i was, that the world may not be what we think it is, that the way most people live their lives, that the way i had been living my life, was leading in a direction opposite where my heart wanted to go. As far back as i can remember my response has always been, "Ok, then what do you think it's like? Show me."

What does it mean to "open yourself wide enough to let [the answers] in"? It doesn't entail "doing" anything. It entails stopping what you are currently doing, it means throwing in the towel and surrendering to your questions. It means giving up the chase for answers where you have been looking for them up to now.

Opening yourself simply means setting aside your past and turning off worries about the future and seeing what life looks like only in the present moment. For five minutes if that's all you can manage, but eventually for hour after hour, day after day. Open yourself to what this present moment contains, as it is, unadulterated by all those thoughts of what it should be or what you wish it would be. Uncontaminated by what you have been conditioned to believe it is supposed to be.

Let Life be who you are, forget who you think you are (gender, race, nationality, religion, social level, parental status, friendship status, etc).

"Opening" isn't something you do, it's something you don't do. It's letting go of what you used to do and seeing what presents itself with this new mindset.

This path seems to many to be a place where you learn things. It's not. It's a place where you unlearn everything. It's where you leave bits and pieces of who you were along the side of the trail because you realize they are no longer needed, or wanted. Where you drop off unneeded baggage because carrying it no longer makes sense. Scary? I don't think so. I'd call it liberating.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Don't Know

Road Kill 18

I just don't know, eh
Of course that may surprise you
But not who you are

Same routine. Same old pair of running shoes. Same old Dave. Same search on the side of the same local roads. Same weather as yesterday — clear skies with the temperature in the upper 70s. Beautiful day to be out running, even if it didn't go all that well.

It may surprise you; that may be unclear. But who you are has no troubles with it. Because that's who you are. It and that are such simple words, and yet...