Recently, I broke a tendon in my foot playing soccer with my grandson. If I want to avoid re-injuring myself, I am going to have to be very discriminating in what activities I engage in for some time. Luckily, each of us has the capacity to filter our experience, sort it into likes and dislikes, things we want to repeat and things we want to avoid. This is the key to successful functioning.
It’s wonderful and very important, from an evolutionary point of view, that we have this discriminating sense. However, our tendency to reject those activities that don’t support our well-being means that we also have a tendency to accept only the perfect, unblemished fruit. Zen practice teaches us to say yes to everything that happens to us, including the difficult, whether it’s loss, boredom, anger, confusion, or discomfort. Here’s a poem by Jane Hirshfield, commenting on her memory of time spent at Tassajara Zen Monastery in California:
Even now, decades after,
I wash my face with cold water
not for discipline, nor memory, nor the icy, awakening slap,
but to practice choosing
to make the unwanted wanted.
One of the features of MZMC Zen practice periods is the assignment of practice partners. Often practitioners do not get assigned the practice partner they want. So, I have been referring to my injured foot as my practice partner. Right now I am post-surgery—on crutches for a few weeks and wearing a boot, which goes almost up to my knee for some time after that. I certainly did not ask for this practice partner. Nevertheless, he’s been assigned to me and if I am kind to him, pay attention to his needs and take care of him, he and I will heal together.
This is referred as “self-power” in Zen, planting our “selves” deeply in the nature of what surrounds us. We can be intimate with each difficulty and fully embrace our life beyond the discriminating mind.
To do this, our thinking needs to be flexible, moving beyond our calculating minds which warn us to be wary of things that are different or out of the ordinary.
But what does all this have to do with nature? Nature is, in a sense, wild. Often we become afraid of anything that appears wild or out of control even though our body and our world is full of areas that are “wild.” They regulate themselves quite well and give us life.
They cooperate. My foot will heal itself. All I need to do is plant myself deeply into listening to, paying attention, and caring for my practice partner.
When we spend time in nature we see that wild does not mean, “crazed,” but simply “what is,” uncalculated and undiluted. As Zen practitioners, let’s take refuge not from wildness, but in wildness. In my next piece or two I will elaborate on this referring to Dogen’s Mountains and Waters Sutra. As Terry Tempest Williams says, “To be whole. To be complete. Wildness reminds us what it means to be human, what we are connected to rather than what we are separate from.”
Tim Burkett, Guiding Teacher