May 23rd, 2018
“I keep traveling around the bend
There was no beginning, there is no end
It wasn’t born and never dies
There are no edges, there is no sides
Oh yea, you just don’t win
It’s so far out – the way out is in”
George Harrison, from the song “Any Road”
I think that every Zen practitioner, at some point, gets restless on the cushion and wonders why he or she is sitting silently in a room with several other people. There is suddenly the desire to do something, anything besides sitting on the cushion. There is an intense feeling that it is all just a waste of time.
Maybe it is. Or maybe it’s not.
I keep thinking back to my recent adventures with a small band of Native Americans. I spent, in total, about four weeks with these people, wandering all around the country. I went to eight different reservations. I did two sweat lodges. I smoked peace pipes. I danced to their drumming. I drove a POS car through a raging blizzard. I slept in a tepee. I dug up blood root to send home to my wife. I got extensively smudged with smoking sage by a medicine man. During the course of the entire journey, I never knew what would happen from one day to the next.
I blame Zen for this experience.
Zen involves meditating with other members of the sangha. It involves some ritual performed within the confines of a temple or Zen center. It also involves a person’s life outside of the sangha. What happens in the temple must have an effect on life outside of the temple. Otherwise, it really is a waste of time.
For me, one of the effects has been to make me less goal-oriented. It makes me more open to whatever comes my way. I still plan and organize, but I also let things just happen. I made an open-ended commitment to the Indians, knowing (or not knowing) what would happen. To the best of my ability, I let go of my expectations and desires, and I just took a ride on their roller coaster. I tried to be in the moment. I tried to just be there. It was often crazy and uncomfortable and scary, and I’m glad that I did it.
As Harrison sings in the refrain to his song:
“And if you don’t know where you’re going
Any road will take you there.”
That’s a fact. I didn’t know where I was going, and any road was good enough.
It is also a fact that I still don’t know where I am going. Zen practice has made me aware of that. Oddly enough, I am okay with it, most of the time. So, I follow the road that is in front of me, and I walk along it to see where it leads me.
That can be fun.