Friday, August 29, 2008

La Noche Oscura Del Alma

Over the past twenty days or so, I have turned my attention inwards... as I am wont to do from time to time (I am a monk, after all... )

My days have been long, and I taken some perverse joy from the physical exhaustion, even while I was suffering as a result... The economy has done nothing to help out, financially, and there is nothing other to do than to work as hard and as long as I am capable of doing. This has become more or less a matter of survival. The choice is 'Just do it'.. or possibly end up with no place to live, and nothing to eat. I take joy from the simple truth of my being physically strong, mentally tough, and spiritually resilient, and that I have the opportunity to work the extra hours in order to get through the rough patches. This is a blessing that many others do not enjoy.. so, I am not complaining at all. I am fortunate. The situation is difficult, but by no means insurmountable. Of late, the financial situation has taken a turn for the better, so hopefully the 'work binge' will slack off a bit.. or, more accurately, the dire need for the work binge will slack off. In any case, this is what life is bringing, and it is my story... so I am diving into it, with both feet, and immersing myself in life, just as it is.

I am training in two monastic offices simultaneously, and holding two others... this involves a great deal of memorization, as well as the learning of a huge body of very exacting liturgy and ritual. I love what I am learning, but it takes a huge effort to learn properly.

Somewhere in the midst of all this the truth of my mortality hit home with the force of a hurricane.

Although the life review, which is a part of this practice, doesn't start until 15 September, I am finding that it is nearly impossible for me to avoid conducting informal impromtu 'mini life reviews' as I go through my daily routine, and also, at times, I must admit that it creeps into my practice.

I have been 'remembering' many of the failures, bad decisions, false starts, and out and out crappy things that I have done... as well as the disappointments, heartbreaks, and bleak times.

Many of these topics and incidents had been conveniently pushed from the forefront of my mind, and now I find them all rushing back; which tells me that they have never been properly confronted or dealt with effectively - simply swept under the rug. (Any rug will, apparently, do just fine it would seem). At first I was somewhat dismayed by all this crap that came rushing in to wash over me and leave me gasping and flailing and trying to keep my head above water...

... Now I think I am grateful for a chance to simply face this stuff directly, and accept it for what it is. I am beginning to realize that we need both day and night. Both good and bad... so, I suppose I must find my center, and try to achieve some degree of balance.

While I have more or less let my mind flow with the thoughts that have been coming... observing, noting and practicing soft belly as the need arose... I have not done much more than to simply let the thoughts arise and move on...

When Life Review practice begins, I will start to work with this stuff. I am not particularly looking forward to this... but it is going to be a long and probably difficult process... and the only way past it is through it. I don't want to turn my face away from the unpleasant parts any longer... I think that by doing this, we injure ourselves in some fashion.

So.. I will be facing whatever comes... in practice, or in my life, directly and head on. Pretty much from here on out. This is more or less what I do. But, in all honesty, this is not what I have always done... so there is a great deal of work to be done.

Intellectually, I am aware that this work will involve opening my heart to whatever comes during the life review, and of forgiving both the others who I perceive to have done me wrong, and, most importantly - forgiving myself for the stupidities, failures, and all of the other things that didn't work out as planned, or just plain blew up in my face over the years. This is the part that I fear will be the most difficult. Nevertheless.. I am going to have to find a way to do it, or I will be stuck swimming in circles over these issues that now long in the past... so I suppose it is up to me to decide what it is that I am going to do.

Life Review will not be all bad, of course... actually, most of it will be pleasant and enjoyable... but, thats sort of like saying "You can play and enjoy yourself all day long... for hours and hours... I will only be sticking a needle in you for a few seconds each day!!" -- you see?

But, this is the practice.. and it is already doing a great deal of good for me.

One of the offices that I am being trained to hold is called 'JikiJutsu -- here is a Wikipedia entry:

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A jikijitsu (直日) is the individual in charge of directing monks to the zendo to sit zazen in a Japanese Zen Monastery. Their position is that of head monk, and they are generally regarded as strict disciplinarians. Their position is considered most desirable to hold in the meditation hall. The jikijitsu also ensures that the monks get to sleep and wake up on time according to a strict protocol. During zazen, the jikijitsu will walk around the zendo wielding a kaisaku (or, Zen stick), which is used to strike a student's back when they have lost focus. These strikes are generally not violent, and will often relieve muscle cramps for the individual being struck. In the Rinzai school, the jikijitsu may strike a student without a student's request if they feel the student has gone astray. In the Soto school, a student will ask for a blow by placing both palms together as the jikijitsu walks in front of them.

The other office is called 'Eno'. The Eno in a Zen Monastery, Temple, or Zendo is the 'Chant Master'. The Eno chants the dedications of merit before each chant and also leads the chanting service. Often, when some special chanting ceremony or ritual is required, it is the Eno who is responsible for doing this.

The way that we are taught our duties and responsibilities is through a one to one relationship with the teacher. Day by day we are taught a little bit more, and we are constantly corrected on what we have already been taught. By this method, we eventually learn what we must know, or at least enough to do a passable job.

As for perfection? Well.. I am still trying to figure out precisely what that is...

These positions take literally years to learn properly. Every action is deliberate, and every movement must be polished and executed with poise and with grace. This is Zen.. and, this is life. We take it a second, a minute, a day at a time... In Zen, it is the journey that is the focus; and not the destination. In this journey, we are always arriving, every minute... and we are always dying.. with every breath.

In my forays into the 'pre-life review life review' I have been mostly satisfied with my life.. thrilled actually with how things are currently... somewhat regretful of how I chose to do things in the past... but extremely happy with how things have turned out. Just about the only exception to this is in the realm of my career... So, much of my attention is likely going to be cast in this direction. I have mentioned this issue already, and I have been letting it slowly turn and percolate in my mind.

I am taking heart from my determination to face things directly, and I have been doing this for some years now... and it has worked wonders.

Although living a perfect life may be out of reach for most people, I think that living a life of authenticity is not so far out of our reach, if we are willing to simply face things and to see them as they are.

While I think my lifestyle lends itself to authenticity, I suspect that there is a great deal of work to be done. This is probably the most important issue that I am facing.

As T.S. Eliot said, "
  • There is one who remembers the way to your door:
    Life you may evade, but Death you shall not.
    You shall not deny the Stranger.
  • They constantly try to escape
    From the darkness outside and within
    By dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good.
    But the man that is shall shadow
    The man that pretends to be.

Authenticity. That is all there really is.... because everything else?? ... is Bullshit!!

1 comment:

Marcheline said...

The Dark Night of the Soul, by Loreena McKennitt

Upon a darkened night
the flame of love was burning in my breast
And by a lantern bright
I fled my house while all in quiet rest

Shrouded by the night
and by the secret stair I quickly fled
The veil concealed my eyes
while all within lay quiet as the dead

Oh night thou was my guide
oh night more loving than the rising sun
Oh night that joined the lover
to the beloved one
transforming each of them into the other

Upon that misty night
in secrecy, beyond such mortal sight
Without a guide or light
than that which burned so deeply in my heart

That fire t'was led me on
and shone more bright than of the midday sun
To where he waited still
it was a place where no one else could come


Within my pounding heart
which kept itself entirely for him
He fell into his sleep
beneath the cedars all my love I gave
And by the fortress walls
the wind would brush his hair against his brow
And with its smoothest hand
caressed my every sense it would allow


I lost myself to him
and laid my face upon my lovers breast
And care and grief grew dim
as in the mornings mist became the light
There they dimmed amongst the lilies fair
There they dimmed amongst the lilies fair
There they dimmed amongst the lilies fair