Friday, January 23, 2009

What Is The Sound Of One Broom Sweeping?

You know what a koan is, right?  It's one of those Zen riddles that seems esoteric and difficult to solve.  They can't be solved with the thinking mind.  The answer comes from a deeper understanding within. For me these little riddles pop up in daily life.  One I've been working with for the last couple of weeks goes like this:  I feel this sense of stress (noticed especially when I sit in meditation).  It is always there and it comes from thinking about how many things I have to do.  I somehow feel chased around by my potential activities. I can see this little picture of me running with a broom chasing behind me!  Eek I've become my own cartoon!  

The activities are things I love (I even get a strange pleasure out of house work when I feel I have the time to attend to it with care).  But lately I find myself with this uncomfortable forward momentum that I sense as stress in my body.  I feel the tensing and tightening of muscles and sense that this tightness is always lurking in the background.  It doesn't feel good and it sucks the joy out of the individual activities.   So what to do???   That is the Koan.  Sheesh that's an awfully long koan.  Usually they're like "what's the sound of of one hand clapping?"  "What was your original face before you were born?"

Each morning as I sit I vow to be more present as I go about my work but somehow this intention quickly evaporates and I'm off to the races:  emails,  a chore or two or an errand,  computer stuff,  painting, lunch with friends ..... you get the gist of it .... I bet your life is like that too.  And yet it is the spirit or intention of how each thing is done that somehow feels a little off. 

On it's most basic level maybe it's about remembering to breathe.  The faster I'm hurtling myself into the future, the more I need to slow down.  Sometimes a little mantra that I say to myself like, "everything is fine just the way it is" can be a helpful way to reorient.  Maybe it's all just a little nudge to be more present, to practice awareness at a deeper level, become more committed to it.  While I sense that this tension starts in my mind where I really feel it is in my body so maybe it's a call to integration, to synchronize the two.  In one of the Asian languages they don't even separate the mind and body as we do in the west.  It's all just the heart/mind.   

If I think of it in terms of the story that I am telling myself about life, the subtle  background note is, the more you do the better your life will be. Is it about a mistaken conclusion about who really is in control here? And while the cause might remain unknown to me it never hurts to look at our stories and adjust the ones based on faulty logic and basic untruths.

So this is my koan.  As I told it to a friend who came to have a walk down by the ocean today she became quite animated confessing that she was struggling with exactly this same sense of uneasiness with all that needed to be done in a day.  When I told my partner about my koan this morning he suggested I read a small chapter in a book I'd bought him.  The book called "Zen Guitar" by Philip Toshio Sudo turns out to be quite excellent and the ideas can be extrapolated to any area of life.  But I will end with a quote from the book that seemed helpful to me and my koan  (sounds like that old song me and my shadow): "Do what has to be done, when it has to be done, as well as it can be done, and do it that way every time."

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