Monday, February 14, 2011

Always and Forever

What does it mean to pledge our heart to another "always and forever?" What does it mean to love openly without shame or self consciousness?

There is an old story about a Zen nun named Eshun, who was training with a Master and twenty male monks.

Eshun was known to be very beautiful even with her shaved head and dressed in her plain black robes. A number of the male monks secretly fell in love with her.

One of them wrote her a private letter asking to meet with her in secret but Eshun did not reply. The next day, when the entire sangha was gathered to hear the Master deliver his teisho, Eshun stood up at the conclusion of his talk and addressing the monk who had written the private letter said, "If you really love me, come and embrace me now."

Eshun wasn't interested in some secret love affair behind close doors. She was looking for a public declaration of love without conditions. Although this story never specifies what happened next, one is left with the impression that Eshun's admirer froze when called upon by Eshun to freely demonstrate his love for her - right here, right now.

What caused the monk to freeze. Why was he unable to express his supposed love for Eshun in the moment? What held him back?

The other day the following lyric of a love song appeared on the radio:

"Always and forever
Each moment with you
Is just like a dream to me
That somehow came true

And I know tomorrow
Will still be the same
Cause we've got a life of love
That won't ever change ... "

The term "always and forever" implies an experience of time that stretches forward into the future. But how can love exist in a future that has not yet arrived?

Some say that true love is timeless. That is to say that love is not found in the past or future but only in this present moment. Love must live now if it lives at all.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Turn Into The Skid

By all accounts, the winter of 2011 is one of the roughest on record and navigating snow covered roads offers a real challenge to our safety. So how can we free ourselves from this hazard?

We could simply resolve to just stay home until the snow is gone but the number of storms that we have experienced this year renders this solution impractical.

The snow is just not going away anytime soon. We have to venture out onto treacherous roads to get food, run errands, go to work, etc. We really don’t have much choice. We must find a way to deal with the circumstances of this season of our lives regardless of the weather.

A monk said to Dongshan,
“Cold and heat descend upon us. How
can we avoid them?”

Dongshan said,
“Why don’t you go where there is no cold
or heat?”

The monk said,
“Where is the place where there is no
cold or heat? ”

Dongshan said,
“When cold, let it be so cold that it kills
you; when hot, let it be so hot that it kills

As long as we are alive, we will encounter situations and circumstances that we would prefer to avoid if possible. It’s only natural as our brains are hardwired to seek pleasure and avoid pain. Before our conceptual mind even registers our painful experience in conscious awareness, our bodies have taken steps to move away from our pain.

Not only is this the case when our bodies experience physical discomfort, it is evident when we take deliberate action to move away from our psychological and emotional pain. If guilt, shame, or regret show up, we can take a drink to move ourselves away from these painful internal experiences. If rejection, hurt, and disrespect arrive, we can explode into angry behavior to alleviate these unwanted feelings.

However, Master Dongshan seems to be pointing to another way of living our lives. What does he mean when he says,

“When cold, let it be so cold that it kills
you; when hot, let it be so hot that it kills

When driving on icy roads, we sometimes find ourselves skidding out of control. Our initial instinct is to hit the brakes and turn away from the direction we are skidding. If we continue to try to avoid the skid in this way we will often encounter disastrous results.

In order to stay safe in a skid we must do what seems at first glance to be counter intuitive. We must embrace what we fear the most in that situation. The feeling of being out of control. We must turn into the skid.