Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Union With The Divine?

When I’m dealing with health insurance companies, real-estate markets and babysitters, don’t talk to me about union with the Divine. For people living in the world, it is not useful to think of yoga as some gargantuan undertaking that has the power to bring about a grand realization or transform us into something we are not already.
That's how yoga teacher J. Brown brings back to Earth all the airy fairy talk he often hears regarding yoga practice. The same may (must) be said about Zen and any so-called spiritual practice. (I may stop using the word "spiritual" altogether.)

Check out Brown's blog post (from The Interdependence Project) here. Short and to the point. He's a busy man.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Bad Situation, Good Situation: Who Knew?

Zen students know to avoid the good-bad trap. At least, the good ones do. (Heh-heh.)

Not me, though. I am a wallower in good-bad. However, recently I have come to understand that the problem with identifying any situation, event or phenomenon as "good" or "bad" is not just that to do so is to reinforce dualistic thinking. It is that often we are quite simply wrong in our identification.

One of my favorite "bad" hobby horses is my childhood. As a kid, I was small, socially inept, and given to crying over anything and everything that didn't go my way. I was a natural target for every bully and tough guy, and I must have been pretty annoying even to the "nice" people, adults included. When I hear people wax rhapsodic about their childhoods, I look at my own set of memories and recollect mostly pain and loneliness.

Don't get me started. I told you I was a wallower.

Today I read this post from the blog, Think Simple Now, and an issue that I had been skirting for quite a while suddenly snapped into focus. Author Nadia Ballas-Ruta opens her post with the words:
About two weeks ago, I uttered a sentence that I never thought I would hear myself say. I was talking to my husband and the following words came out of my mouth:
“You know, I have reached the conclusion that I am really happy I had a horrible childhood.”

"Oh, well, it couldn't have been that horrible," I thought. I bet mine was worse. But then she goes on to describe a childhood surprisingly similar to mine, not in the details as much as in the effect. She was right; it was pretty horrible. I could relate.

But could I be happy about it? 

Maybe. It might sound Pollyanna-ish to say so, but I am the result of that horrible childhood, and I like who I am today.  As Ms. Ballas-Ruta says, " I looked at that part of my life, I came to see how it made me who I am and I love being me." Who would voluntarily choose a life of physical abuse and social ostracism, even if they knew it would make them a "better person?" Very few of us, I suspect. Yet when I look at myself up to about age 17 (I often say that my life has improved everyday since I left high school), I have to admit that a lot of who I am today is a direct result of the pressures put on me by my early life.

In my mid-twenties, I worked briefly in a dead-end job for a criminally unscrupulous boss who exploited everyone around him and made no apologies for it. It was one of the worst jobs I ever had, taken just to pay the bills (which I was able to do just barely). I often say it was the worst career mistake of my life, and if I had it to do over, I would not work for George.

But it was on that job that I met Nancy, something that most likely would not have happened  had I been otherwise employed. That was more than 25 years ago, and we've been together that whole time.

Bad situation--good situation.

Who knew?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Mission Statement: Why I Blog

Titles by Zen Master Seung Sahn, published in German

In the Western world of the 21st century, Zen is a lot like television in the 1950s, or the internet in the 1990s: we don’t yet know what we have, how to use it, or what it’s going to look like as it grows in this unique environment. Nor do we appreciate the full effect of backwards pressure as American Zen influences Zen in the East.

But we do know that Western-style Zen will be distinct from its Asian predecessors. In China, Korea, and Japan, Zen developed unique expressions of practice, influenced by the cultural, artistic and social realities—as well as technological capabilities—of each of those places. In this blog I hope to examine how Zen expresses itself in a western environment, and how that environment in turn is influenced by Zen.