Today I am back from a week-long sesshin at the Monastery. I have a lot to do to make up for being away for a week but I haven't done most of it. Although allowing one's mind to settle and quiet down leaves a lot of energy for actually doing what is in front of you, I haven't been very focused today. And although this extra energy made me feel light and, well, energetic despite getting very little sleep, I feel pretty tired today. Further although many good and important things happened during the course of the week, I am left feeling quite…..how to say?……at the beginning.
My neighbors across the street suddenly started showing up at the Temple in Brooklyn on Sundays. It was a funny moment as we looked at each other and said, "What are you doing here??!" They keep coming back and seemed to have enthusiastically embraced the practice and the community. Just before sesshin, I gave them a ride back to our neighborhood and we chatted about various aspects of Zen practice. They had lots of questions and I did my best to answer. Today I feel like ringing their bell and telling them to forget everything I said two weeks ago. I can't really remember what I said, but please, forget it.
My teacher gave me a practice two and a half years ago. Almost every week, except for times when either he or I are away, I have private face-to-face teaching with him where I present my understanding of my practice. It is a koan practice so it isn't that I just let him know how things are going, there is a passing through that happens; an understanding or realization that is there or not there. It isn't amorphous or vague - you either have it or you don't have it. For over two years, he has gently or not so gently told me to keep working on it. A hair's breath away? Keep working on it. Mountains and rivers away from it? Keep working on it. You already know? Keep working on it. I know you know? Keep working on it.
In the rest of my life, to be told no, you're wrong, for over two years would be a pretty clear indication of, shall we say, failure. Or, at least, that I am simply not very good at this. The thing about this practice is, success and failure don't actually come into the picture. As someone who is generally competent and usually pretty quick on the uptake, this kind of perspective is a bit of an adjustment.
I have gotten better at sesshin in the sense that I actually do my practice a lot of the time. I used to marvel that, out of an entire week, if I added up how long I was really concentrating on my practice (versus daydreaming, fantasizing, sleeping or otherwise blathering to myself about myself), it would probably be an hour or so. Now, it is closer to about 50% of the time. I hope that I am not being too generous with myself there but it feels about right. But that is really the question: Am I wasting time or am I really practicing? If the answer is that I am really practicing, then "Keep working on it" is a fine thing - the absolutely correct thing - no matter how long it takes. To even say that it is taking a long time doesn't make sense. But it is a weird thing too because no where else in the world has these standards. So I have to remind myself every so often that even this feeling of being lost and clueless is exactly the right place to be.
Still, while there is no problem, it is an uneasy place. I am pretty sure that's the idea.