Monday, October 10, 2011

Everything I Know I Learned From Frog and Toad

At our Zen center yesterday, there was a dharma encounter (sometimes also called dharma combat) instead of the usual discourse.  It happens as part of the fall intensive training period, called ango.  In dharma encounter, the teacher sits up front and presents a topic.  Ango participants (one does not have to be a formal student to participate in ango) line up and, one by one, come forward and ask a question or make a comment in response to the topic.  It is like a public dokusan (or face-to-face interview with the teacher, which is normally held privately).  There is only a certain amount of space for people to line up, so when the teacher invites people up, there is usually a scramble as people race to get a space on the line and many are sent back to their seats.

My feelings about the whole thing have mostly been along the lines of "not me! no thanks!"  Or perhaps, "why must every single thing about Zen practice be such exquisite torture?"  In other words, I have been very content to sit on my zafu and watch the proceedings from a safe distance.  From my passive position, I have learned so much from dharma encounters, yet I have had a growing sense that sitting back and watching others was both ungenerous and failed to take advantage of all the teacher is offering me.  

So yesterday I took my place in the line - not without a bit of jostling, I might add.  Perhaps this explains why there are always so many more men participating....another reason to get my ass on line.

An illustration of my state of mind during dharma encounter.
My heart was pounding so hard that I seriously wondered if I would survive.  I feel sore in my heart today, just like when I overwork my hamstrings.  I pulled a heart muscle.

To be honest, I have almost no memory of what I said except to know that it barely made any sense in reference to the topic.  If it was dharma combat, then I was the dog that rolls over and exposes their belly in acquiescence.  I do not know why this kind of thing sends me off the deep end but it surely does.

Later, I was meeting with some others to plan for the next Zen Kids meeting next weekend.  We were looking at a Frog and Toad story about bravery.  At several points in the story, Frog and Toad are under attack (by a snake, a hawk, etc.) and they run away, but at the same time they are shouting, "I am not afraid!"  

From "Dragons and Giants" in Frog and Toad Together by Arnold Lobel, 1972.

Sounds very familiar.


tinebeest said...

Maybe it is one of those things you get better with, and less nervous about, when you do it a bit more?

Asking questions in research seminars used to have the same effect for me. I am now a bit more used to it, so I am no longer scared of making a fool of myself (because that was *my* fear). At the same time, there are colleagues of mine who in all their decades of teaching and research have never ever asked a question, yet nobody would consider them a fool, or ungrateful for the effort the speaker has put in.

Jan Morrison said...

Frog and Toad are the best. They are definitely spiritual warriors - or is that spirited worriers? I remember them with great fondness only equalled by my love of The Mole Sisters.
Whenever I get up the nerve to speak to a rinpoche - I also have an out of body experience. Yikes.

Nathan said...

The one time I did dharma combat (with our old teacher) was about the same. Lots of heart pounding. Some words said, but blown out of my mind as quickly as they arrived.

I always found all the scrambling to get in line for dokusan we did during those days ridiculous. Not sure if I'd think any differently today, but it does seem to shake away a lot of the "prepared" thoughts from your mind.

Robyn said...

It is nice to hear that my experience isn't unique, although I know others also feel that way even from comments within our sangha. Still, I think tinebeest is right - it will get easier if I keep on trying.

Nathan - I also look at the race to dokusan with a bit of a raised eyebrow. Is it really necessary? But it has been explained to me that it is a sign of respect to the teacher. I completely get that and goodness knows I am ever so grateful to my teacher that I would run any distance he requested. But there is something else that takes over occasionally - well, a lot. I have received and given my share of elbows to the rib cage. And then ask myself "why??" I don't know the answer to that one!