Monday, April 13, 2009


Had an interesting couple of days, and am basically recovering. This time it isn't so much the press of work (though there's plenty to do all the time), but a flash of anger that I was able to work through.

I tend not to be aware of anger much. I either supress it or rationalize it away, or am overwhelmed by it and shut down. This time, an observation by a fellow monk made sense when I heard it, and I just smiled and acknowledged the truth of it. Later on, when I was no longer involved in any interaction, suddenly I was aware of a lot of rage around that observation. I imagined myself defending myself angrily, and even wanted to hit something (or maybe someone). All the time I knew it wasn't about the person making the observation, but realized that this was triggering something in me.

I was able to stay curious about it without attacking or rationalizing it. I allowed the feelings just to be there without either cultivating them or trying to get rid of them. I became aware of tears, of grief, of loss, along with the rage. Just kept noticing. Found myself inarticulate, not able to really say much (even to myself) about what these feelings might be. Kept going, kept sitting still with the feelings.

That evening (Saturday) I was able to go to bed early (8-8:30pm), and woke up early enough on Sunday morning that I was able to explore this further. I did an imaginary Sanzen with my teacher, and began to figure out what it was about.

The observation that triggered the whole thing had to do with a little practice dharma talk that I shared with other students who also shared dharma talks. Mine was titled "Getting it Right," and had to do with the Noble Eightfold Path. The questions I got from others afterwards had to do with my talking about my fear of getting it wrong, fear of failure. I talked about how when I make a mistake sometimes I feel intensely unworthy, like I'm not worthy to breathe, eat, or take up space on the planet. The observation that got to me was that this seemed like a very young response. There was something about my eventually taking my place as an adult.

Then a question about What sustains me? This place and the people here. That led to more questions about what if this place burns down tomorrow? I don't know. What happens when I go off to Tassajara this fall. I don't know, we'll see.

That was the interaction as it happened, more or less. The later emotional reaction of rage was, as I mentioned, not in the moment, but later when all attention was off of me. I was supposed to be listening to others at that point, but found this wave of anger washing over me, and paid attention to it.

As I reflected on it the next morning, it occurred to me that I had projected "shoulds" into my fellow monk's observation: that I shouldn't be in such a young place, that I should be an adult, that I shouldn't be dependent. That was totally my own projection, of course, and I realized that. Didn't really change the anger, which I wasn't attaching to anyone, just noticing that it was there. I realized that I was reacting to a sense of expectation that I should be doing things differently from how I'm doing them, and the anger was a way of saying, no, this is what I'm doing, I'm being young and dependent right now, and it's what I have to do, and it's the right thing for me to do. In that sense, it was healthy (and uncharacteristic). It actually seems like a hopeful sign to me that I can begin to defend myself and my life. And that I was able simply to watch and wait and find what is the truth here.

When I took this to my other teacher later in the morning in real-life f2f Sanzen, she told me that the real work happens in that inarticulate space, where we simply sit and observe. Yes, finding words to explain what happened and to understand it is also part of the work, but it isn't the most important part of it. I told her that feeling inarticulate is not very comfortable, and she just smiled. I have to say, it's getting easier to stay there, not to struggle or panic so much.

I guess that's why they call it practice.


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