Monday, February 14, 2011


I have never much been one for planning my future. Which is just as well: if I had had any plans for myself eleven or twelve years ago, I would probably not have taken the opportunity to move to Zen Center when it arose. At the time I had a nice life in London, a great job, a lovely flat, a steady group of friends, and a jazz band - but I always had the idea in the back of my head that something else would happen. I just didn't know what.
These days I have formulated something like a five year plan, which includes connecting with the sangha in England, with a view to eventually moving back there, more time at Tassajara, and, when the time comes, being shuso - or as Konin says, perhaps from her Japanese training, doing shuso. All of which sounds very nice, and is perfectly plausible. Except that I have recently been presented with something of a Plan B, which does not completely fit with my Plan A. So, since Paul is in town from Tassajara for a few days, I asked for dokusan with him.
There we were, face to face at six o'clock this morning. There is always a moment, once I have settled on my cushion, robes tucked neatly, sleeves under control, mudra in place, where I exhale deeply and look up to meet Paul's eyes, and in that moment of meeting, I try to figure out which of us is going to speak first. Today he got the first word in, noticing that my brow was furrowed - it's true, I usually need a few minutes to really settle with the situation, and this time I had my opening speech all prepared, and wanted to get to it.
We discussed Plan A and Plan B, and mused as to whether one would be better for my path of practice than the other. There were no conclusions, but I was happy that at least we both knew where we stood at the moment, and now I get to see what unfolds in the next weeks and months, and how attached I am to things turning out the way I want them to.


Sandy's witterings said...

It's very easy to raise people with posts in the world's various religions slightly out of the bounds of humanity (whether you belong to that religion or not). Part of the attraction of these pages is that here and in your other blogs you let us see you're as subject to the human condition as anyone else - don't we all have a grand plan (or a not so grand plan) or need a little help with decisions from time to time. I have an old school friend studying to be a priest who does exactly the same in his facebook page (although I think he doesn't realise it).
I watch with interest to see where the plans eventually lead.

sb3day said...

Shundo- I absolutely love this picture. I'm not sure if it's the light or the angle but it feels like an exact visual representation of the feelings you described as you sat down with Paul to "plan" your future. And in terms of plan a or plan b (or plan z for that matter), it seems to me that the way you're responding to your situation, it no longer matters which plan you choose. You've chosen instead to be aware of where you are. That makes me think you'll find peace regardless of your path.

Shundo said...

Hi Sandy, your point is extremely valid, and adds to the pain and upset when teachers behave unethically, as I was recently describing. We all make mistakes and we all need help...

sb3day, thank you for the comment. I like the picture because it shows you how close you are to the teacher in dokusan; the only difference is that dokusan almost always takes place in the dark of early morning...
An interesting part for me is having a plan chosen for me, and how I respond to that.

Trevor said...

I never figured out what to do in dokusan. I was told that I shouldn't try to do anything in particular, which led to me just sitting there and waiting for the dokusan-er to speak first. Then I was told that that instruction was a corrective, and now I had "swung too far" in the other direction. Ha!

Shundo said...

Hey Trevor - I used to be much the same, just sitting there until Paul started prodding me (not literally), then I think he must have said something once, and I started thinking about getting the first word in, which I usually do now, but not always...I still think I get some of the bowing forms wrong, but because I have been doing them all this time, I just keep doing them.

kevin said...

That closeness was the first thing that struck me during my first dokusan. The intensity of a teacher's concentration developed over years of practice is very powerful at close range.

After a few it didn't cut so sharply, but the seriousness of why you're there I don't think will ever go away. (even if we just laughed the whole time)

I enjoy those moments so much.

Recently I had my first and only (so far) dokusan with a visiting teacher and having no relationship with him, intended to just go in and see what happened. But sure enough, he'd said something during a dharma talk that got me asking questions, spoiling my "spontaneity" plan.

Thank you for opening the door of discussion to what I've felt as a mildly taboo subject. It's always comforting to know that while the experience may manifest differently, the essence is always the same.

Shundo said...

Hi Kevin, Thanks for your comment - yes, the meeting is everything. I have had 'dokusan' on the phone, and it really isn't the same thing at all. It can be very powerful to meet someone like that for the first time. There is a combination of feeling there is nowhere to hide and feeling that there is nothing to be afraid of either, as you are not going to be judged as you would expect to be in other circumstances.
The 'taboo' word is interesting. I think people don't say so much about it, because it is so personal and intimate, but at the same time, there is a ceremonial part of it, which it is helpful for people to know.
"While the experience may manifest differently, the essence is always the same" - a great phrase: is there anything this is not true for?