The other day, Nathan over at Dangerous Harvests wrote about "Hard-ass Zen". He was poking fun at the macho side of Zen, a side of the practice that isn't too hard to miss: sitting in full lotus, not getting up for kinhin (walking meditation), being first in the zendo at 3 am, racing to be first in the dokusan line, and on and on. Zen offers many opportunities for aggressive, even competitive, behavior. And that's exactly what they are too - opportunities. Will you take them?
I would be lying if I said I have never snatched at those particular opportunities. You don't have to be a man to be macho, sometimes.
After all, Zen is a practice that demands a large dose of discipline and motivation. I dare say that being a wishy-washy fence sitter is near to impossible when one takes up Zen practice. Frankly, this is part of what is so appealing about it - it is really, really difficult and it requires a shit or get off the pot attitude. For me, as a confirmed Type-A personality, when I hear the word, "difficult", my ears perk up. Sign me up! This kind of determination is good and even necessary. Yet, strength and weakness go hand-in-hand, as what draws me to the practice becomes the snare that trips me up.
It reminds me of what happened right before we left to come here to Newfoundland. I went to the Temple for the morning sitting. It would be my "last chance" (the very words are mildly ridiculous) for dokusan (private face-to-face meeting with the teacher) until we return in the spring. It was feeling very important, dire even, that I get in there but I knew that the amount of time in the morning isn't always enough for everyone who is waiting on line to get in and see the teacher. When the line was called, I raced there and, literally, elbowed another person out of the way to get ahead of her. Well. This story is so riddled with delusion, it is quite embarrassing to recount it in this public forum. But I recount it because it really opened my eyes and perhaps you can recognize yourself in there too - as the person elbowing or being elbowed.
I have been thinking about this attitude in context of my yoga practice as well. My practice, ashtanga, is well-known as the practice for Type-A people. I remember David Williams criticizing ashtanga teachers who do extreme adjustments. Ashtanga teachers tend to have a reputation for being rough and causing injuries trying by to force people into asana-s they may not be ready to enter. Williams said, "these are people who have come to an ashtanga class - if they could do it, they would be doing it!" I think of that often as look around at the other ashtangis when I practice in a group context - I see a level of determination that isn't always present in other yoga classes. I think of it when I am pushing myself into an asana and it hurts. What exactly am I doing at that moment?
There is a delicate balance between feeling the love and feeling the burn, between working the edge and racing off the cliff, between aspiration and expectation. Can you find it?
Here is a wonderful dharma talk by Myotai Treace titled You Can't Leave Here. She takes up many things but I especially love this part near the end,
Bunny lives are lived by the "robot rabbits," creatures mindlessly fulfilling the expectations of their culture, hopping around in the patterns established by habit and history. We are capable of so much more than that. But in order for that capacity to be realized we have to take a chance. We have to put our body on the coals, and our heart on the line. Whenever someone complains about how Zen practice doesn’t do it for them, how it doesn’t reach some place in their life that is hurting or aches with incompleteness, I’m shot through with this determination to dwell more deeply in attention. We’ve only seen the fingernail clippings of this vast body of practice: who can know what possibilities are still undiscovered, waiting for us? No one has cut the path we need to follow; that’s the tiger’s poem, written step by step, breath by breath.
I have pulled that quote quite out of context, so please check out the whole talk.
I mean...do you want just fingernail clippings? Go on, be a tiger!