In my next pieces, I want to explore how to move from the tyranny of the single description to a feeling of connectedness with the larger whole. This might also be described as moving from the conscious mind (the “either/or” mind), to the deeply creative mind (the “both/and” mind). The best spiritual teachers show us how to hold opposing truths simultaneously,as Suzuki Roshi did when he said, “you are perfect as you are,” and then added, “and you could use a little improvement.”
Each of us has a “brokenness” embedded in an unbrokenness; each of us has a woundedness that’s part of an unwounded whole. This whole can be described or “mapped out” in many different ways, as in the fourfold equation, or tetralemma:
This tetralemma equation is not just theoretical. If we moved beyond a single side, we become a shape shifter, able to accommodate ourselves to whatever happens.
This equation originates with the Buddhist teacher, Nagarjuna, whose name means “serpent” because of his great resilience. He has learned how to shed the thicker outer layers of his skins.
Christian mystic Meister Eckhart alluded to this when he said, “A human being has so many skins inside, covering the depths of the heart. We know so many things, but we don’t know ourselves! Why, thirty or forty skins or hides, as thick and hard as an ox’s or bear’s, cover the soul. Go into your own ground and learn to know yourself there.”
As we let go of our hardened beliefs, habits, and emotions, we develop the ability to open up to this ground.
Years ago, when I was sitting in a meditation retreat in San Francisco, I became consumed by jealousy of the two very tall guys I was sitting next to who sat hour after hour like immovable pillars, while I squirmed and cursed under my breath.
A few nights later I had a dream in which those same two guys were standing still in the meditation hall and had grown to 7 or 8 feet tall. In the next flash, my teacher, who was under 5 feet, entered the hall and began joyfully turning somersaults around their feet unseen by them while beckoning me to join him. I woke up from the dream chortling with laughter. After that my jealousy dropped away entirely.
It is quite possible that through a meditation practice, and with a good teacher, each of us can let go of being locked into any single belief or emotion. When we do this, we too, are becoming nagas/serpents, shedding our hardened skins so we can endlessly play in an open field of being. We can learn to attune each emotion, each thought, and each expression to that underlying wholeness. Instead of trying to fix our brokenness, we can synchronize each part within the deeper whole and settle into a deep enjoyment of our moments and our lives.
Tim Burkett, Guiding Teacher