Monday, July 18, 2011

A No-Win Situation

I was distressed to read Zen Beginner's post about Saturday. I had seen the conversation taking place, and the resulting exit, but had no idea who had been the protagonist of the situation or that it was having such an impact. My first reaction was that I needed to have a conversation with the other party, which I managed to do today. I listened to what they had to say, and then put forward a couple of ideas of my own.
I once sat next to someone for a sesshin who was in a chair; sometimes they were very still, sometimes they were very fidgety. One period, feeling particularly irritated - I had a fidgety person on the other side of me as well, and was not settling - I decided to count how many times this person moved. My intention was to be able to wave this in their face after sesshin. The total ended up being around ninety distinct movements in thirty minutes of sitting, and I suddenly realised that there was a lot of suffering causing this to happen - I didn't say anything to that person in the end, but I did stop feeling irritated by them.
So my feeling about this story from Saturday was that the other person, who has some years of practice under their belt, should have tried to keep a compassionate mind towards the newer student, and if that was proving too hard for them, then maybe they needed to go and sit in the gaitan to have some peace.
One of the things I try very hard not to do as ino is reinforce anyone's idea that they may be a failure. I am sure that I have managed to make more than a few people feel bad, and sometimes, for someone who is in residential practice, that might be a helpful thing, but I can see how easily dynamics and perceptions can be reinforced and co-created. As Paul mentioned in his talk on Saturday, when you start to sit, it is common for these kinds of feelings to become more prominent as you are paying more attention to them, and with something as slippery as our practice, it is easy to think that everyone else must be doing it much better than you are. It simply isn't true; no-one is failing and no-one is succeeding. We trust that we are all trying our best, even if it sometimes doesn't look like it or feel like it.


Anonymous said...

Well I have to admit this post (and Zen Beginner's account) brought me to tears.

There have been times in my practice where I have been able to sit in sweet stillness for hours (alas not in my years at Zen Center but that's another story!) and then I'll have a day where I can't seem to sit still or follow a breath. It just means that's where we are, no more, no less, no judgement necessary.

I'm happy that ZB was able to transform the situation and as always, thanks to Shundo for his compassion

Shundo said...

Thank you for this

Dennis said...

As someone who is extremely self-conscious about making the slightest noise and/or movement (stretching my neck, which tightens; swallowing frequently), I read this with great interest. I worry about how much I'm disturbing the people around me... and sometimes imagine being busted like Zen Beginner was. Your suggestion about the complainer going to the gaitan was thoughtful and compassionate. Thank you.

Shundo said...

Hi Dennis,
Usually no-one gets busted. Interestingly though, this morning, having had to ring the wake-up bell, I was rather hot and grumpy and came very close during second period to shouting at a resident in front of me who was anything but still - it was the looking around the zendo that I was about to call out, as that is a no-no.

Chris Burnham said...

I'm lucky the ino at Tassajara faces the wall and I am blocked from view of the tanto by the altar. I apologize frequently to my neighbors (who tell me again and again it's fine) for my movement and, yes, some occasional glancing around, but I feel like the tanto or ino would want to get a word in. I'm sure it's by means of encouragement in the practice rather than from a place of reprimand just for reprimand's sake.

Shundo said...

So that's where you ended up, Chris. I hope it is going well for you down there.