Hi Brad. Yesterday I allowed myself to get hung up over not having the job I want or the money I want and convinced myself what a total failure I was. During zazen that morning I had a wonderful experience which only pisses me off even more when I allowed my day to turn to shit. I finished zazen just now once again to start my day and have the thoughts that it does not really fucking matter if my self exists or not or if I have a ton of money or not or if I have a great job or not. All that matters is the present moment and how I think feel believe and act during the present moment. Circumstances can and will change sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. But right now they are what they are and the rest is all up to me. Dude. How do you STAY in this good space for long periods of fucking time? The roller coaster of emotions can be a karmic bitch!!!
There is no trick to staying in a good space for long stretches. You can’t do it! It’s just the nature of things. Don’t even bother trying.
It’s the preference for good spaces over bad spaces that’s the biggest problem. The hardest thing is learning to give up both. You can, however, gradually understand the unreality of both the good spaces and the bad ones.
The only trick I’ve discovered regarding this is that you have to address it immediately on a kind of micro level. Let me see if I can explain what I mean by that.
The famous Zen poem Shinjin Mei (Faith Mind Inscription) begins with the line, “The Great Way is not difficult. Just avoid picking and choosing.” Sometimes the second line is translated or paraphrased as “just have no preferences.” I think that’s how I first read it.
If you conceive of preferences the way I did, this seems impossible. For example, I prefer cherry ice cream to chocolate ice cream. That preference seems to function as if it is a permanent part of who I am. Any time I’ve been offered those two flavors of ice cream I have always chosen cherry. There is no reason to think that’s going to change.
Furthermore, my preference for cherry ice cream over chocolate is a part of who I am as an individual. All of my preferences are like that. Dropping any of my preferences seems dangerous. They’re part of my identity.
I’m choosing to talk about ice cream flavors because that’s an easy topic. If we start getting into preferences that are more emotionally or even politically charged, we’re getting into an area where dropping or avoiding them can seem dangerous. When you drop those kinds of preferences you feel vulnerable. It’s almost like removing your clothes in public or even like taking off your bulletproof vest in a war zone.
Moreover, it can seem impossible. I mean I just like cherry ice cream better than chocolate. Cherry tastes better to me. What can I possibly do about that?
But that’s not quite what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about in this moment, when we’re faced with this situation — no matter what the moment and no matter what the situation. At this moment can you drop your preference either for the situation to be other than what it is, or for the situation to continue forever?
Maybe what gets in the way is the illusion that you have a choice. If you’re in a bad situation, you can certainly choose to take steps to change it. If you’re in a good situation, you can also take steps to try to make it last. That’s true. But in order to do this effectively you have to accept the situation exactly as it is. This moment is what it is. There is no choice.
Your preferences for this moment to be other than it is, or for it to last forever don’t really matter. That’s just something your brain does. It’s an evolutionary function designed to insure your survival. Your thinking mind grabs hold of that natural tendency and turns it into a problem. But it’s an unreal problem.
Everybody wants the good and wants to avoid the bad. I do. You do. Buddha did. No one is exempt. That, in itself is not the problem. It’s how we make it into a problem that’s the problem.
Sitting zazen is a good way to learn to deal with this. You’re sitting and you start thinking about all the interesting things you could be doing instead of staying still and looking at a wall. That’s the moment when you have an opportunity to either be carried off by your preferences or just remain where you are. Don’t try to stop wanting to do something more interesting. Just sit with that too.
Where it gets tougher is when you’re sitting zazen and all of a sudden you feel a rush of bliss and peace and transcendence or whatever other name you have for all that good meditation-y stuff. It feels fabulous. So naturally you want it to last.
That’s fine. It’s perfectly OK to want that to last. Any sane person would. Just see if you can avoid getting caught up in that desire. And if you can’t, then that’s OK too. Just keep on sitting.
So you’re not trying to somehow remove the fact that you like cherry ice cream better than chocolate from your personality. But in this very second, when that dish of chocolate ice cream is placed in front of you, just eat it. And if you happen to think, “I wish this was cherry ice cream,” that’s fine too. Just finish your dish of chocolate ice cream and maybe next time you can get some cherry ice cream.
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April 23, 2016 Long Island, New York Molloy College “Spring Awakening 2016”
October 23-28, 2016 Benediktushof Meditation Centrum (near Würzburg, Germany) 5-Day Retreat
Every Monday at 8pm there’s zazen at Silverlake Yoga Studio 2 located at 2810 Glendale Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90039. Beginners only!
Every Saturday at 9:30 there’s zazen at the Veteran’s Memorial Complex located at 4117 Overland Blvd., Culver City, CA 90230. Beginners only!
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