by Ven. Jinmyo Renge sensei
Dainen-ji, June 11, 2011
Intimacy is simply being open to the intimacy of experiencing which is already present and always available. This is what Zen practice actually is: opening to this openness, being a bodhisattva.
Intimacy is the recognition that everything within your life is alive AS your life. Every moment of experiencing, regardless of how you feel about it, regardless of what you think of it, is this intimacy, and everything you experience points to this intimacy whether you recognize it or not. Zen practice is seeing how we turn away from this intimacy and releasing this contraction.
On your way into the monastery this morning, you walked through the Sanmon, the Mountain Gate, and up the stone path. On either side of the stones of the path, an array of colours met your eyes as the many different greens of ferns and moss, the small flowering plants and ground cover. The air in the monastery grounds, cooled by the water in the ponds, is cooler than the air down the street. Did you feel how it was soft on your skin? And as you walked on the path, step after step, you were being observed by countless birds from overhead branches or from inside the thick hedge, calling from all directions. Perhaps you noticed some of these details. Perhaps you were so caught up in just 'getting into the building on time' that you missed most of this.Perhaps you were even thinking about what you would do after you left or what was happening before you came or even last week or something that has never happened and never will. In any case, whether you were allowing attention to open to those details or not, there was intimacy with your life. The question is, how intimate were you with your life? How responsive were you? If your attention was folded down into contraction, you will have noticed very little about that walk up the pathway. So you see, this intimacy we are speaking of is not something you are ever denied, it is something you can choose to open to.
You don't have to wait for experiencing to be arranged in a certain way or for you to be interested in how experiencing is to open to this intimacy. Even when you are not feeling well, when you're tired or grumpy, you can still be intimate with experiencing. You can have a pounding headache and still open attention to the context in which you and the pounding of your head are taking place because you are aware of the headache. The question is - what is it that is aware? How is it that you are aware of anything at all? If you have a headache, trying to manipulate it with your practice isn't going to cure it. Take an aspirin if you want to change it. But while it's going on, practise with it. Practice isn't about manipulating experiencing so that you can limit and contain it and only experience what you want to experience. You can't control reality. You can influence it, but if your attention is contracted, you will inevitably influence it in ways that will deepen contraction.
Wanting to manipulate experience by turning practice into a strategy or a formula is a misunderstanding that beginning students in particular fall into. This strategizing comes up while sitting zazen, but also when you're not sitting. It comes up concerning work issues such as dissatisfaction with a job or a career, or a living situation, but also with more personal issues such as relationships. This is why you spend so much of your sitting time pondering these issues - you think that if you just spend enough time thinking about them, you'll reach some state of perfect mental clarity and you'll know exactly what to do; you'll have the formula for it, the cure. And of course, the fact that all of this is only going on inside your head and reality is not inside your head is something that you will tend to overlook when you're really caught up in it.
Because you spend so much time thinking about strategies and designing formulas for yourselves, topics of this sort will also come up from time to time in practice interviews and daisan. It's not that this is a problem - far from it, students are welcome to bring up any topic they wish to discuss in interviews and daisan. But I think it's important to understand how limiting this can be.
If you ask a practice advisor to tell you how you should respond to your boss or your significant other when they say or do this or that, yes, the practice advisor could probably put together a response that would be very clever. But the problem is that if they were to do that, all they would be giving you is one of many possible solutions to this particular problem and it's not YOUR solution. You won't have learned anything from that. Why? Because what you've asked for is a formula that will only work in a very specific set of conditions. The next time an issue comes up, that formula won't work because the circumstances will be different. And there's no guarantee that it will work anyway, because the practice advisor or Dharma Teacher is not IN that situation and does not know all of the details of it.
What we can do, however, is talk about the habitual patterns that people tend to fall into so that they can recognize them and avoid certain pitfalls.
Everyone wants intimacy but there are many things people call 'intimacy' and most are not intimate at all. Many are what you settle for when you are not really being intimate with your life - the touchy-feelly kind of intimacy people try to share that comes and goes and goes and is gone more often than it is present. There are many patterns people engage in around this, so I will bring up a few of them.
Relationships aren't all they're made out to be. As Anzan roshi has often pointed out, ninety-five percent of the time you're trying not to get in trouble with the other person. Another five percent can be nice or kind of nice, or just slightly better than not being in trouble. And for the last five percent, which is spread throughout, you're in trouble. This is not intimacy, it's the result of following habitual patterns that involve a lot of 'leaning'. People who are in intimate relationships do tend to lean on each other a great deal and I don't mean the kind of leaning one does with an injured hip. No, the other kind of leaning - wanting someone to prop you up, jolly you out of your states or distract you from them. When people are sad or angry or confused, there is the expectation that the other person will be available to hear their stories, sympathize with them and try to make them feel better and this can become more than a full-time job, it can become a life-long job. Even if there is something really serious going on, your first obligation as concerns your states, is to work with them yourself. Looking to another person to do this for you is sheer laziness. When both parties do this to excess, their time together is spent primarily looking at each other, continuously trying to gauge the kind of states that are present, day after day after day.
If I were to use a metaphor for good and bad relationships, it would be this: There are two people walking down the street together and as they walk, they are looking at the sky, the ground, the trees, the buildings and perhaps commenting on those. Or they might talk to one another about possibilities that may unfold for them or they may just walk together in silence. But they are attentive to the details of the walking, of their surroundings, and that of course includes each other, but without an enormous sense of problem. A bad relationship is like two people walking down the street but they are seeing nothing but each other. They watch each other, continually worrying about what the other is thinking, what facial expressions might mean, wondering what is going on in the other person's mind, wondering about their relationship, wondering "do you love me?" which is stifling and claustrophobic
Relationships with other people, be it with a significant other or family members or friends, provide us with countless opportunities to notice how the three klesas determine for us the criteria by which someone is worthwhile or not. If your attention is bound up by habitual patterns of contraction, then these will dictate how you view other people. Again, first and foremost, it is your responsibility to work with your own states and habitual patterns. Because these are so habitual and you feel so justified in propagating them, your attention becomes consumed by them and it is very difficult to for you to recognize that they are even present unless you make the effort to open attention. And I mean as much of the time as is possible. Any state you experience has one agenda and that is to continue itself. Practice is about interrupting states. It's not convenient and it is never habitual. It requires an effort to open to reality in the midst of your life. But there is time to do this and there is space in your life to practice. If you can find the time to spend as much time as you do lost in habitual thoughts and feelings, you can find the time to practice.
The intimacy people wish to find in their relationships does not begin as romantic engagement. It doesn't start with becoming personal with another person. Real intimacy is intimacy with your whole life and it is only to the extent that you can be intimate with your own life that you can be intimate with the life of another. I think this is really quite obvious. If your attention is so folded down that you are spending a good portion of your time lost in storylines and feelingtones and strategies, you make yourself unavailable and unresponsive to reality. Other people are not your thoughts and feelings about them.
If you are in a relationship that was formed on a weak foundation and you practice, it may fall apart. And that won't be because practising will make you cold or indifferent. It will be because you will begin to understand what intimacy really is. If you are in a relationship that was built on a strong foundation and practise it will become even stronger, even more intimate. The reason for this is that intimacy is too intimate to be personal. The intimacy of the bodhisattva, of one who is opening to openness is not just intimacy with another person, it is intimacy with the whole of one's experiencing. It includes other people but is not dependent on other people. And this intimacy is something you can practise right now.
When you are sitting and choose to open past your storylines to feel the actual contact of thumb against thumb, you are practising intimacy. A step in kinhin is intimacy with the sensations of the foot, the texture of the floor beneath the foot and the coolness of the air that passes beneath the foot as it is lifted to take the next step. And further, opening attention to the whole bodymind, balanced and at ease, intimate with the sensations of the warmth and weight of the hands held in shashu resting against the diaphragm, feeling the breath come and go; moving through the space of the room; opening to the seeing as you move through the space and the space moves past you and intimate with the space of experiencing in which all of this is occurring, When you pay attention to the sensations of the bodymind, the sounds you are hearing and the colours and forms you are seeing, you are opening past self-absorption - this same self-absorption that limits and constricts the relationships you have with other people. This intimate practice of zazen shows you how your attention abstracts and recoils from present experiencing so that you can release contraction and become intimate with the life that lives as all lives, as your life.
There is much more to look into concerning these topics and we shall continue to do so in the next Dharma Talk.