January 2022 Sesshin, Day 2: Nothing Special: Living Zen by Charlotte Joko Beck
8:55PM Jan 18, 2022
This is the second day of this January 2022 Rohatusu seven day sesshin. And I'm going to read again this morning from a book of talks by Charlotte Joko Beck entitled Nothing Special - subtitle Living Zen
I don't know if I mentioned yesterday that Joko was a Zen teacher at the Zen Center of San Diego and a student of Maezumi Roshi's in Los Angeles.
No longer alive, but her words sure are.
I'm going to begin with a talk a section that's entitled The Fall. And it goes like this. There was once a man who climbed to the top of a 10 storey building, and jumped off. As he passed the fifth floor on his way down, he was heard to say, so far, so good. We laugh at the man, because we see what's coming up for him in a moment. How can he say he's doing well, so far? What's the difference? Between the second one he is at the fifth floor, and the second just before he hits the pavement. The second before hitting the pavement is what most of us would call a crisis. If we think that we have only a few minutes or days before we die, most of us would say this is a crisis. On the other hand, if our days are proceeding normally the usual job, usual people, the usual tasks, life may not seem wonderful, but at least we're used to it. At such times, we don't feel we're in a crisis. And we may not feel impelled to practice with diligence. Let's look at the suppose difference between crisis and non crisis.
So sheen, is an artificial crisis. When we commit ourselves to a retreat, we have to stay in struggle with a difficult situation. We do and everyone with us does. So Shane, we do together even even via zoom, are all doing sesshin together. By the end of the retreat, most of us have gone through the crisis, at least enough so that we see our life somewhat differently. It's sad, that we don't understand that each moment of our lives, drinking a cup of coffee, walking down the street to pick up a paper, is it? Why don't we grasp that truth? We don't get it. Because our little minds think that this second that we're living as hundreds of 1000s of seconds that preceded it. And hundreds of 1000s of seconds still to come. So we turn away from truly living our life
it's that old Been there done that
one of the things that happens in practice is you realize, no, I've never been here I've never done this
she says instead, instead of grasping the truth, this moment is it instead of living in this moment, instead what we do. Instead, we do what human beings spend all their time doing, which is a complete waste of time. We try mentally to scheme so that we will never have to suffer through a crisis. We spend all of our energies trying to be liked. Successful, nice, agreeable. assertive, or non assertive, depending on what we think will do it for us. We have schemes
most of our energies go into these schemes as we try to handle our life so that we never hit the bottom. That's why it's so wonderful to get close to that bottom. That's why people who are seriously ill, or who have a devastating circumstance in their life lives often wake up. It was a in the 19th century, the 1800s of British clergyman named Sidney Smith, who said, there is not the least use preaching to anyone, unless you chance to catch the mail
the nature of setbacks, that they allow us to break out of the sense that everything is going to go along the way it's always gone. We can afford to coast put ourselves on automatic pilot and indulge in our favorite thing which is scanning the horizon for threats and rewards.
A lot of people if they think back on the things that made a big difference in their lives, often it was the bad things that helped them to turn a corner. realize something new I know for me, one of the luckiest things that ever happened to me was the police lights in my rearview mirror when I got pulled up over for driving while drunk. Even within a day or two, I realized okay, this is good. Something here is happening many people a huge turnaround comes on their deathbed.
We're all headed towards our deathbed. We're all falling past the fifth floor. And we're all going so far so good.
This business about the various strategies that we try being trying to be liked trying to be successful, nice, agreeable, assertive or non assertive depending on what we think will do it for us. It's interesting to see how we like to present ourselves and understand how much of that is just reflexive. Joko calls it a strategy is if we sat down and thought it out, maybe it might be more accurate to just say it's the pattern that we frozen into. Going back to who knows when we were little children trying to deal with a world that didn't give us what we wanted and could get seriously scary. We all have our own versions of these things
when that she doesn't mention is is zoning out for a lot of people that's their that's their escape mechanism to stop feeling
she says that's why people who are seriously ill or who have a devastating circumstance in their lives often wake up, wake up to what what do we wake up to? And a student offers to the President Joko says yes, and what else? Another student to impermanence, impermanence. All right, that's true to our bodily sensations. Yes, and more than that, we wake up to what finally the wonder of doll and she says the wonder of this second when this second is not me or anything else, but just Oh, and that doesn't mean some giant emotion but just that all of our worries are non existent.
So is what we can access in So Shane so much more easily. Especially as the days go on. strategies get shredded a little bit.
People often comment about how long it takes them to settle in, in terms of days with the sesshin, but also just in a round or a new block of sitting.
Because we have left, we left the moment get up off the mat, it's so easy to go back into our automatic habits. It's really what we're working on. It's one of the reasons sesshin is so wonderful because we make this effort all day, all night. Doesn't have to be tortured. Don't have to twist ourselves into a knot. Just have to be awake, to have to be aware. It's the simplest thing it doesn't require any kind of strain
just requires some faith. Faith in the process, facing the faith in the practice faith in ourselves.
So there's just this, and then all of our worries are non existent. But usually we only have such a realization. We have such a realization, only when we are pressed hard enough that our mind is pulled into the present moment. Then we can forget all our schemes of fixing ourselves, somebody else or circumstances. This is one of the reasons why people climb mountains. Remember reading? Oh yeah, Jon Krakauer, the name of the book into thin air. I thank God just some of the some of the people who summited Mount Everest, this book accounts a disastrous trip up Mount Everest where a number of people died, including the group leader. But the people who are just addicted to mountain climbing, what it what it offers is, it requires concentration that's so close and intense. You have to live in the moment, you have to be thinking about nothing but your next handhold. Next footstep people whose lives are miserable, can overcome that when they're facing some sort of really, really tough challenge. Probably why a lot of us like said, Shane, tell you the truth. But it's interesting, because being totally present is always available. Is it just that we need something evidently, in the beginning anyway to come in from the outside and force our nose to the grindstone?
Because then we can forget all our schemes of fixing ourselves, somebody else, or circumstances. Most people spend 50 to 90% of their waking hours trying to avoid the bottom yet we can't avoid it. We're all on our way down. Every one of us. We can't avoid the bottom. But we spend most of our life trying to do that. Waking up means realizing that our situation is hopeless and wonderful. There is nothing for us to do except simply to live this second. When we're in crisis, or in A cian. We may not wake up fully, but we wake up enough so that the way we see our life shifts. We realize that our usual maneuvers worrying about the past, projecting an imaginary future don't make sense. They waste precious seconds. That's the point every second is it
we're in planning mode thing Hearing things out, then this particular moment has no value. It's just one moment in an endless stream. So easy to put it aside, try to figure out what to do. And sometimes we need to do that sometimes there's planning that has to be done. But I think the point is clear to everyone that our planning is way, way, way out of control. Like we could say that social media is pleasant, or an iPhone is pleasant or whatever. But when it takes over our life, not so good.
She says, from one point of view, we're always in crisis, we're always falling toward the bottom. From another point of view, there is no crisis. If we're going to die in one second. Is there any crisis? No, it's just that second. One second, we're alive. One second, we're dead. There is no crisis, there's just what is. But the human urge to do the impossible, keeps us mucked up. And that urge is extremely powerful when it comes to something like death or physical injury. We weren't programmed by evolution to necessarily live in the present, it doesn't help get our genes into the next generation. From the point of view of passing our genetic makeup on, our being happy is of little value, or being connected to reality. So in a way, we're swimming upstream, trying to find a way to live that we forgotten.
She says there's no crisis is just what is. And this is actually true, there's not a crisis, if there's nothing you can do. And for a lot of things, there is nothing. It's like somebody going in for an operation. And there's two different ways to do it. One is to fret about the fact that the doctors may very well make a mistake, maybe you'll get bad care, things won't work out. There's another to realize, I can't stand over the shoulders of the doctors, or I'm laying on the table. Just have to put yourself in someone else's hands. When you can do that. It's really kind of wonderful. To realize you're being taken care of we're so fortunate to live in this country. At a time when health care relatively speaking, is so advanced.
We spend so much time with worry. Doesn't make us bad people. Not advising people to worry about how much they spend worrying.
But to see it. When you see it, you can let it go. So much of the stressing that we do. So much of the leaving the moment that we do is done unconsciously. We don't see it happening. happens so quick. So the great thing about sitting is that we begin to see that and then that seeing starts to slip into our whole life where we used to tune out for hours. Now maybe it's only a minute or two at a friend who was driving down south somewhere, I think maybe to Florida but he was leaving Ohio and he came to and Tennessee couldn't even remember how he got there. Just one thought after another
We spend our lives trying to avoid the unavoidable our energies, our emotions, our projects, go into making money, being successful having everybody like us, because we secretly believe that such things will protect us. One of our most powerful illusions is that being in love can give us real protection. In reality, there is no protection, no answer. Our lives are absolutely hopeless. That's why they're wonderful. And it's not a big deal. One of the earliest meditations in Buddhism, recommended by the Buddha himself is to meditate on our own death. Monks used to go into a cemetery, where corpses were laid out and buried and meditate on their own inevitable death. Sounds like a kind of gruesome practice, but it can really wake us up.
For the Buddha, it was seeing the inevitability of death. everyone we love and care for family, mother, father, wife, or husband, children, all of us pass away. How can we live as if that weren't true? Of course, for the Buddha, that spurred his practice, spurred his journey, and in the end brought him to his great awakening.
She says, Who wants to be successful, who wants to be liked? Oh of us. There's nothing wrong with such wants. Unless we believe the illusion. Even wanted, even wanting to make a million dollars can be great fun, as good a game as any. If we see it simply as a fun game. And we don't hurt people as we play it. But we don't see it as a game. And so we hurt others as we pursue our lethal path. Enlightenment is simply knowing the truth, not in the head, with one's whole being. Knowing that this is it. It's wonderful. Got a toothache. That's also it wonderful. We think about the toothache Of course we don't think it's wonderful. But it is wonderful simply to be what life is in this second, toothache and all.
The verses of the fate on the faith mind. Third patriarch says the great way is not difficult for those who do not pick and choose.
jokin says unfortunately our human minds do RCN for the most part, animals are less manipulative with their lives. Sometimes they may try to play tricks. I once had a dog who didn't like to come home when he was called. So he'd stand behind the hedge on the opposite side of the street. That worked well in the summer, he'd stand hidden behind the hedge, just as quiet as could be. But when leaves fell off in the fall, he'd still run there to hide, standing quietly and completely visible. Still, dogs and other animals do not get as confused as we do about the purpose of their lives. Unlike us, they just live. Some of us are in the middle of disasters, others are not. Of course, we don't want to stay forever in the middle of a major disaster. But when we're in the middle of one, we practice hard showing up at the Zendo more often doing whatever we can do to cope, then life settles down. We cease practicing with such intensity. One mark of maturing practice is to see that life is always totally a crisis and totally not a crisis. They're the same thing. In a mature practice, we practice just as hard. Whether there's a crisis or not crisis or no crisis. We just do it
Nothing is really solved until we understand that there is no solution. We're falling and there's no answer to that. We can't control it. We're spending our life trying to stop the following. Yet it never stops. There is no solution. No wonderful person who can make it stop. No success. No dream. No anything can make it stop. Our body is just going down.
Rich Man, poor man, the powerful, the weak and oppressed, all of us. It's an Italian proverb. The end of the chess game, the Queen and the pawn go back into the same bag. Joka says the Fall is a great blessing. If someone announced a pill that would cure death and allow us to live forever, that would be a true disaster. Picture yourself in 6000 years, still thinking the same old thoughts? With a cure for death? The whole meaning of being on this planet would change. And where would we put the new babies being born? All of us are aware of aging, gray hairs, wrinkles, twinges from the time we are conceived were dying. When I noticed such signs, I don't rejoice. I don't like them any more than you do. Still, there's a big difference between disliking change and trying frantically to stop it.
There's somewhere in one of his talks where John CIAB, the tie master mentioned suddenly feeling the new Creek and thinking yeah, that's about right.
I look at my hands. And remember when I first saw them, they were my grandfather's. Now I've got him sooner or later, we realize that the truth of life is the second we are living. Just this second we are living, no matter whether that second is at the ninth floor or the first. In a sense, our life has no duration whatsoever. We're always living the same second. There's nothing but that second, the timeless present moment, whether we live the second at the fifth floor, or right over the pavement, it's all the same second, with that realization, each second is a source of joy.
So not that hard to understand. But it takes practice. It takes commitment. That commitment may start out not so strong, but it grows. We practice correctly. Begin to really understand the value of this timeless present moment. And the fact that it's always here, it's always available. No matter how nuts stuff we get can always turn in that direction.
Joko says without that realization, each second is misery. In fact, we often secretly want to be miserable. We like being at the center of a melodrama. Most of the time, we don't think there's any crisis. So far so good. Or we think the crisis is the fact that we don't feel happy. That's not a crisis. That's an illusion. So we spend most of our life attempting to fix this non existent entity that we think we are. In fact, we are the second. What else could we be? And the second has no time or space. I can't be the second that was five minutes ago. How can I be that I'm here? I'm now I can't be the second that's going to arrive in 10 minutes either. The only thing I can be is wiggling around on my cushion, feeling the pain in my left knee. Experiencing whatever else is happening now. That's who I am. I can't be anything else. I can imagine that in 10 minutes. I won't have a pain in my left But that's sheer fantasy. I can remember a time when I was young and pretty. That's sheer fantasy. Also, most of our difficulties, our hopes, and our worries are simply fantasies. Nothing has ever existed. Except this moment. That's all there is. It's all we are. Yet most human beings spend 50 to 90% or more of their time, in their imagination, living in fantasy. Each of us knows the truth of this. People who practice know it better than others. Maybe the first fruit of practice, sitting down on the mat and finding out what's going on upstairs. We think about what has happened to us what might have happened, how we feel about it, how we should be different, how others should be different, how it's all a shame, and so on and on. It's all fantasy, all imagination. Memory is imagination. It's the nature of memory. Every memory that we stick to devastates our life. Because the key thing is sticking to it is it's not that we never remember everything, anything. But memory takes us out of this moment, takes us out of our life. Practical thinking when we're not clean to some fantasy, but just getting something done is another matter. My knee hurts, perhaps I should investigate treatment for it. The thoughts that destroy us are the ones in which we're trying to stop the fall and not hit bottom. I'm going to fix him. I'm going to fix myself, or I'm going to understand myself. When I finally understand myself, I'll be a piece and then life will be all right. No, it won't be all right. It will be whatever it is just this second, just the wonder as we sit, can we sense this wonder? Can we feel the wonder in the fact that we're here, that as human beings, we can appreciate this life? Feel this wonder this is the real koan work. What is it, that we're awake, aware? What a privilege to be able to look into that. Follow that closely, meticulously. She says in this respect, we are more fortunate than animals. I doubt that a cat or a beetle has the capacity to appreciate though I may be wrong. And I can lose and I can lose the appreciation the wonder if I wonder from this moment. If someone yells at me, Joko, you're a mess. And I get lost in my reactions, my thoughts about protecting myself or retaliating that I've lost the Wonder. But if I stay with this moment, is just being yelled at. It's nothing. But we all get stuck in our reactions.
As human beings, we have a wonderful capacity to see what life is. I don't know if any other animal has that ability. If we wasted and don't truly practice, everyone with whom we come in contact feels the effects. That means our partners, our children, our parents, our friends. Practice isn't something that we do just for ourselves. If it were, in a way it wouldn't make any difference. As our life shifts into reality, everyone we meet shifts to, if anything can affect this suffering universe, this is it. What what more what better thing can we do from the people that we see every day than to be present how we help each other I
remember coming home from a sesshin once and my son was a sullen teenager at the time and can't even remember what was said and but remember walking into the room and he made a remark meant to offend me and it just washed right across, it's just so so okay
really helps to defuse a lot of things
we have a little bit of time left and I'm going to read from another shorter section. It's entitled simple mind. The only mind that can sense life in a transformed way, is a simple mind. The dictionary defines simple as having are composed of one part only. awareness can take in a multiplicity of things, just as the eye can take in many details at once. But awareness itself is one thing only. It remains unchanged without additions or modifications. Awareness is completely simple. We don't have to add anything to it, or change it is on assuming and unpretentious. It can't help but be that way. Awareness is not a thing to be affected by this or that. When we live from pure awareness, we are not affected by our past our present or our future. Because awareness has nothing it can pretend to its humble, slowly, simple. practices about developing or uncovering the simple mind. For example, I often hear people complain that they feel overwhelmed by their lives, to be overwhelmed, is to be caught by all the objects, the thoughts, the events of life, and to be affected emotionally by them so that we feel angry and upset. When we feel like that we may do and say things that hurt ourselves or other people. Unlike the simple mind of pure awareness, we are confused by the multiplicity of the external environment, then we can't see that everything external is us. We can't see that everything exists in us until we can lead live 80 or 90%. Out of a simple mind. Practice is about developing this kind of mind. It is not easy, takes endless patience, diligence, and determination. Within this simplicity, this awareness, we understand past, present and future. And we begin to be less affected by the barrage of experiences we can live our life with with appreciation and some compassion. The long no longer does our life revolve around judgments such as, Oh, he's so hard on me, I'm such a victim, you hurt my feelings. You're not the way I want you to be. People some tell me sometimes tell me that after sesshin. Life just flows without any problem. The same issues are there, but they present less difficulty. That happens because in sesshin mind becomes more simple. Unfortunately, we tend to lose this simplicity. Because we again become caught in what appears to be very complex life around us. We feel the things aren't the way we want them to be. And we begin to struggle, and to be at the mercy of our emotions. When this happens, we often behave in destructive ways.
The longer we sit, the more we have periods that first brief than longer. When we sense that we don't need to be opposed to others, even when there are difficult. Instead of seeing them as problems, we begin to enjoy their foibles without having to fix them. For example, we can enjoy the fact that they're too silent or they talk too much or they put on too much makeup. To enjoy the world without judgment is what a Realized life is like. It takes years and years and years of practice. Even then, I don't mean that every problem can be experienced without reaction. Still, a shift occurs if we move away from a purely reactive life in which everything that happens can trigger our and we move away from a purely reactive life in which everything that happens can trigger our favorite defense. Simple mind is not mysterious. In a simple mind, awareness just is it's open, transparent. It's nothing complicated about it.
Ramana Maharshi Indian sage said we can't see reality which is completely simple without ourselves being completely simple