A day at the zen center

As I open my Word document with blog posts and get ready to start typing I see the last paragraph of my previous post. Clearly I was in a different state of mind when I wrote that. My answer to “how to escape from this hopeless sadness?” was “well, you just stop it”. I made it sound so simple. Ironically, I just spent 3 days going through all kinds of motions and I think I tried everything to enter a peaceful state of mind. If somebody adviced me to “just stop it” I had probably punched him in the face. What I ‘forgot’ to mention last time was that “it’s simple but it ain’t easy”. And sometimes “not easy” is bordering to impossible.

So I’m sorry if I gave anybody a crappy feeling. To soothe the pain: I feel crappy too.

Well, I don’t know if crappy is the right word. I just visited my teacher Genno Roshi in Paris for a short sesshin (zen meditation retreat) and am on my way back to Amsterdam. She likes to use the word “dislodged”. The reason we go to meditation retreats, spiritual teachers and do inner work is to leave our comfort zones. During a sesshin perfect circumstances are created for some good ol’ dislodging. Hours of meditation and a good teacher makes it possible for us to go beyond what is familiar to us. Once we leave our comfort zones we enter places we don’t know. That’s when we become dislodged. And right now dislodged feels to me as tender, vulnerable, open, sad and accepting. As if somebody peeled my skin away.

I’ve learned again how hard it is for me to accept life as it is presented to me. “True acceptance is not wanting to change anything even if you could” said Roshi. Well, the moments that I feel that way are seldom. I’m always busy healing myself and when I’m not healing myself I’m trying to heal a situation, a relationship or another person. Not exactly accepting.

What happened was that with the help of a fellow practitioner I was able to shed new light on an existing difficult situation in my life. Seeing it from a new perpective gave me a sense of relief. A couple of hours later I start feeling a lot of love and appreciation. It’s  a beautiful feeling. I feel so much love that I send out a text message. And a phone call. And an email. Then the fear kicks in. What if my love is misunderstood? What if I will be rejected? What if I won’t receive the response I am hoping for? Why on earth couldn’t I leave the experience alone? Now I find myself checking my email and phone every 3 minutes for messages (without exaggeration). I feel foolish, immature and insecure. So now I try to accept that reality, as a good zen student who accepts what is. I go to sleep with a big lump in my stomach.

I wake up at 4.30. Instead if falling back asleep my mind starts going over the situation. All of a sudden I start seeing things I overlooked. I start seeing the the influence of my being on somebody elses life. Two hours of ruminating later I see how much damage I have done to somebody I love. When the morning meditation starts at 7.30 there is not much left of the happiness of the afternoon before.

After the morning meditation there is an opportunity for interview with Roshi. I decline, confidently telling her attendant that I will have plenty of time to talk with as we will have lunch later. Then I realize that the reason I don’t want to go is because I fear I will break down crying. So I decide to go. Naturally I break down crying. In deep despair I confess the mistakes I made, the wrong advices I gave, the damage I’ve done. She just looks me in the eye gently and tells me not to go there. She gives me simple and concrete advice how to deal with the situation instead. “Everything you did was out of love. Don’t create a guilt trip. It will not help.” My tears vanish.

Moments after the interview I ask myself where did this deep desparation come from? I realize it is connected with feeling inadequate, unable to meet expectations, failing, disappointing: everything that happened to a child that had to grow up in a world where he didn’t know the rules and was punished for his mistakes.

The sad truth is that we all have these stories inside us. It’s the old memories lingering in our subconscious that make us not leaving the experience alone, contaminating our perception and preventing us from being pure presence. Unconsciously we are acting out our history. We act like children looking for love, appreciation and confirmation that our existence is wanted. And those of us that really felt unwanted and unseen hide from that pain.

When I returned home I received a really sad and painful email. And you know what? My heart did not break. I was able to embrace it. Turns out that the reward for living through all the hardships I put myself through is an open and soft heart. Just another day at the zen center.

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