Thursday, September 27, 2007

Reflections from the Intensive


Our practice is the art of the possible.

As Flint pointed out in his talk, that does not mean possible as in “someday maybe I will become enlightened”: rather, it is the art of discovering what is possible in this moment: what it is possible to be, do, say, or experience that contributes to the overall wholeness quotient of you and everyone you know, every other being. The expression of that which is moving through you unhindered and unbound. That means if it is a moment of grief, a moment suffused with anger or impatience, a moment immersed in melting love, a moment of boredom, a moment of confusion, a moment of conflict, disturbance, serenity or even bliss: what is possible?

Our practice is the practice of becoming sublime artists of the possible, sculpting experience, composing the music, crafting the poetry of this very moment. The wonderful thing about this practice is that you do not need to be "good" at anything, you do not need to worry about mistakes or lapses, because in the very next moment, a fresh canvas presents itself, a fresh audience appears, an in-breath is followed by an out-breath. And as we immerse ourselves in the wonder of this ongoing creation of our lives, the texture of the fabric and its impeccable design begins to reveal itself as a profound and incredibly rich pattern, a pattern woven of people, places, activities, processes, events, emotions, ideas, and relationships. And we begin to discover that this magnificent work of art we are somehow manifesting is so much vaster than we could ever have imagined. In this moment of recognition, we can realize our always already present awakened being.

How can we not be grateful, even to those who have opposed us, even to those who fear us, even to our own selves, for the experience of being artists of the possible. Bodhisattva's Vow is not just a kind of boy scout oath to save all beings; a very nice homily for a sanctimonious life. Do you really understand the lines in it that sound so mystical, the lines that sound like someone who has been dropping some serious acid? When you really recognize the shift from judgment to appreciation without exception:

Then on each moment’s flash of our thought
there will grow a lotus flower
and on each lotus flower will be revealed Perfection,
unceasingly manifest as our life,
just as it is,
right here and right now.

This is not simply a metaphorical expression, it is a direct stroke of the master's brush, leaping off the page, through your ears, into your mind and heart. You don't even know what it means, because it is not comprehensible to the one who knows.

The meaning is not in the words, yet it responds to the inquiring impulse. This
line from the Jewel Mirror Samadhi perfectly captures the spirit in which Flint and I meet each of you again and again, in practice discussion, in inquiry groups, in our talks and the lives we live. It is a privilege to have this opportunity.

Today, as I have been meeting with you in our practice discussions, over and over the word gratitude has been expressed, so I know this is on your minds as well.

For the artist, life makes no mistakes: the jazz note that seems in error is repeated, woven into a new melody, the smear of paint becomes a window into another universe, the stumble in the dance reveals the vulnerability that is pure grace. We are exploding through our lives, the materials we are working with are volatile, ever changing, remarkable in their variety and potential. They are living materials, with the power to heal, to wound us to the core, to stun us into awe. They are not things we interact with, to push or pare or scrape away. The medium in which we fully express the life pouring through us is relation; it is what is always arising in the experience of what is: which is each other, the work we are engaged in, the environment that is so tenderly sustaining our fragile lives.

And as artists, we recognize there is a craft to learn, a lifelong teaching and learning process that captivates us with its brilliant light. At every moment, we are working, not for fame or glory or wealth, but for the complete expression of that which we truly are. Don't hold back. Please, sit with this understanding, in curiosity and delight. Or in whatever is arising right now, in this awareness we are sharing.

What is possible in "just a weekend?" What is truly possible? I think it is safe to say that neither Flint nor I believe that many years of dedicated practice are required to fully awaken right in this moment, nor some special technique, perfect teacher, or ideal spiritual community. I had a colleague, an expert on reading, who used to say, children don't learn to read. They can't read, and then they can. There are many ways that might happen, but it is ultimately binary: unable to read/able to read. This is the shift Flint was talking about when he mentioned stereograms. It is our funny, effortless, falling away shift when we let the life flowing through us freely express itself in our unique manifestation of body, mind, heart, and relationality. It is who we are, minus the believed stories that we tell ourselves, about ourselves, about the world, about everyone else.

Can that really be enough? Well, what kind of artist are you? Do you want to make little, tentative dabs of the brush with safe, erasable colors? Do you really want to try to plan out the whole canvas in comfortable detail? Don't you want to work on this big masterpiece together? You recall the eko in our morning service:

Life and death are of supreme importance
Time swiftly passes by, and with it our only chance
Each of us must strive to awaken
Be aware, do not squander our life!

Our life; the life; life itself, melody, harmony, dissonance, counterpoint, the only thing we can't do is stop the music. The eko urges us to plunge into our practice and our lives wholeheartedly, but you notice it is not a singular effort: it is our chance, our life...

Can we be brave enough to meet this challenge, every moment a new, fresh canvas waiting for our colors, a silent instrument waiting for our touch? Waiting to resonate with the life that is within us?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Ordinary Mind September 2007 Practice Intensive

Ordinary Mind September 2007 Practice Intensive
Originally uploaded by Peg Syverson.

The September practice intensive was held this past weekend, the first practice intensive hosted by Ordinary Mind Zen in Austin. Participants gathered Friday evening for zazen and opening remarks by Peg and Flint. The intensive was dedicated to Joko Beck, who has inspired so much of what we do here. You can see her photo in the middle of this picture, and she is also invoked by the calligraphy on the wall, that reads: Ordinary mind is the way. Saturday was a long day of zazen, with periods of work practice, meals, and talks. Inquiry groups with Flint brought the group together in the afternoon on Saturday, and again Sunday morning, It was a wonderful opportunity to deepen our practice and a profound experience in building sangha. We plan to make the talks from the intensive available soon. You can see additional photos of the group by clicking the image here.