Sunday, November 18, 2007

Autobiography of a Boo Boo. 10: Epilogue (Up to Your Ass in Analogies).

This series of blogs explains how I've come to my current Zen-style meditation practice. I'm calling the series Autobiography of a Boo Boo, in homage to the Hanna Barbera cartoons of my youth, and in recognition that I've never been good enough to be called a Yogi.

At the end of my first retreat, Zen Master Seung Sahn (ZMSS, aka Dae Soen Sa Nim) gave a talk. He said that we refer to the intensity of a retreat as “hard practice,” but more accurately it's “hot practice.” The mind is sometimes like ice. It’s not flexible; you can’t wash your hands in ice. We do “hot practice” to melt the mind, so it becomes like water, freely taking the shape of any situation whatsoever. The final words of his talk were, “Don’t make anything; just do it!”

Water flows anywhere; it doesn’t attach to any thing or any idea. That’s what it felt like after the retreat, not clinging to anything. But… maybe I could make one tiny exception. The sense of clarity that arose so strongly during the final retreat days… couldn’t I cling to that? The wonderful feeling of freedom, the beautiful understanding that everything is insubstantial… if I held onto just that much, and made it into something special… that wouldn’t be cheating too much, would it?

I heard an analogy about “spiritual addiction” (from “non-dual” teacher Ayashanti). Imagine that for your whole life, you've thought you were very poor. One day, someone tells you, “You’ve got diamonds in your shoes.” You don’t believe him, because you know you’re poor.

Eventually you get desperate enough. You’ve exhausted all other hope, so what the hell, you take off your shoes and check inside. Holy shit! There really are diamonds in your shoes! That moment when you discover that you’re not impoverished (and really never were) is extraordinary. “Spiritual addiction” is clinging to the feelings you get from the discovery. The value of diamonds isn't in those feelings. It's in spending the diamonds, using them in a way that helps all beings.

Here’s a cruder analogy. Growing up, I chewed Bazooka bubble gum. Inside each 1-cent pack, there’d be a little comic. In one of them, Bazooka Joe sees his friend hitting himself over the head with a hammer. When Joe asks why, the friend explains, “Because it feels so good when I stop!”

My peak experience in the Zen retreat was something like that. For most of my life, I’d been holding these delusions about my “self” as a substantial thing. When that delusion disappeared in meditation, it was wonderful. The magnitude of that wonderfulness was equal to the magnitude of the delusion. If I wanted to hold or repeat that wonderful experience, what was I going to do? Build a new, even bigger delusion, so I could feel so good when it disappeared?

ZMSS had called the retreat “dry-cleaning your mind with don’t-know soap.” Indeed, it felt like I’d taken a mental shower that left everything pristine. But no matter how thoroughly you take a shower, you can't do it once and be finished. Every day you get dirty, so you make a habit of regularly cleaning the dirt away.

In addition to practice in day-to-day life, I do a day or two of sitting retreat, every month or so since that first one. These are retreats headed by different teachers in ZMSS’ school. During the first year, I was still processing the special experience of my first retreat, and discussed it with these teachers.

When I told Zen Master Su Bong about it, he asked, “Do you want to get that experience again?” I said, “Yeah.” And he said, “Then you can’t have it.”

Zen Master Soeng Hyang’s advice was even simpler. The words may seem harsh in black-and-white, but they were delivered very gently. Here’s what she told me: “Just forget about it.”

ZMSS talked about the need to “digest” understanding. I pondered that word for years. If you’ve got an apple in your hand, it’s obviously separate from your body. After you eat it, for a while it’s still there in your stomach. When it’s digested, though, the apple becomes one with your body, and otherwise it no longer exists.

Was I holding the experience and understanding from the retreat, as if it were a thing that I’d gotten? Over the years, maybe I’ve digested it, but who knows. How can you tell if something’s completely digested? You’d have to examine what you excrete, and who wants to do that?

Damn, this analogy has turned way too disgusting. Forget I said anything.

THE END

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Just read you "spiritual autobiography. I liked it! Thank-you

Stuart said...

Thanks for your comment, anony. I would have written "Boo Boo" just for the pleasure of taking my jumbled thoughts and memories and expressing them in a coherent way. In addition to that, I do get a kick when I hear that someone else enjoyed reading it. I much appreciate that you took the time to do so.

bonya said...

Hi Stuart,
After reading your autobiography i verymuch like the term SPIRITUAL ADICTION,question arrises in my mind ,am i also victim of that.
Splashes of your mental shower reaches the readers mind.
bonya
guru's feet.

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