3. The Practice of Emotional Awareness
We return to the starting point of the first of these talks, which was Zen Master Dogen's dictum that "to study Buddhism is to study the self". "Study" here should be understood in the older sense of a deep application, a penetrating awareness. This is, however, a very ancient Dharmic practice which receives much attention in the earliest scriptures - the Pali Canon. For example, in the Middle Length Discourses we find the following:
My friends, it is through the establishment of the lovely clarity of mindfulness that you can let go of grasping after past and future, overcome attachment and grief, abandon all clinging and anxiety, and awaken an unshakeable freedom of heart, here and now.
The foundation scripture here is the Satipatthana Sutta, designed to establish a "liberating clarity," After the calming of the mind this Sutta sets out a succession of awareness practices which are described as "the Four Foundations of Mindfulness" - of the body; of feelings (pleasant, unpleasant and neutral); of one's general mental state, and, finally, of the totality of one's physical and mental state. Various other classifications have been used.
It seems to me that emotional awareness is crucial, but that this needs to be practiced in the body (physical awareness). And, as explained in my First Talk, our emotional states find cognitive expression in views, opinions, beliefs and ideologies, of whose origin we also need to be aware. Also important is the awareness of impermanence - one of the three Signs of Being - and of the passing of time and the nature of our experience of time, of which Master Dogen has provided an insightful exploration. Finally there is what might be termed "environmental awareness", which seems to be the best known and most commonly practiced among Western Buddhists. This is awareness of what is happening "out there", (of which dish washing seems the oft quoted example). As to "mindfulness" and "awareness" there is at present no agreement as to definition: they are often used loosely and even interchangeably. Perhaps we should use "mindfulness" as the context in which "(bare) awareness is practised. Thus we need to be mindful in order to bring our attention to bear in awareness, as, for example, when we are struck by some misfortune or discomfiture.
Ven. Nyanaponika Thera, one of the outstanding figures in the contemporary Theravada, has observed the following, in his classic The Heart of Buddhist Meditation:
Chinese Chan and Japanese Zen are the closest to the spirit of satipatthana. Notwithstanding the differences in method, aim and basic philosophical concepts, the connecting links with satipatthana are close and strong, and it is regrettable that they have hardly been noticed. In common, for instance are the direst confrontation with actuality; the merging of everyday life with the meditative life; the transcending of conceptual thought by direct observation; and the emphasis on the Here and Now.
Not least of the merits of emotional awareness practice is as an antidote to the spiritual bypassing described in my Second Talk. The Buddha's encapsulation of the Dharma as "Suffering I teach and the way out of suffering" may be unwelcome to those who have indeed taken up Buddhist practice but in their heart of hearts feel that they are already suffering enough. Mysterious and exotic orientalisms and the bright prospect of Enlightenment may seem more attractive than what can be readily dismissed as mere therapy and a watering down of the True Dharma. I am reminded of the story of the two late-night drunks searching the gutter beneath a lamp post. One of them tells a policeman who wants to know what they are up to that they are searching for a lost watch. The policeman asks the drunk why he is searching here after he has explained that the watch was in fact lost elsewhere, in a murky corner of the street. The drunk replies: "Yes, I know that, but the light is better here." Jack Kornfield, in his book A Path with Heart, spells it out:
Meditation and spiritual practice can easily be used to suppress and avoid feeling or to escape from difficult areas of our lives. Our sorrows are hard to touch. Many people resist the personal and psychological roots of their suffering - there is so much pain in truly experiencing our bodies, our personal histories, our limitations ... We fear the personal and its sorrow because we have not learned how it can serve as our practice and open our hearts.
The good news is that in recent years there has been a flood of new books, by respected and established teachers, which emphasise the importance of working directly, in full awareness, with the ups and downs of our lives. Their titles include: When Things Fall Apart; Wanting Enlightenment is a Big Mistake; The Wisdom of Imperfection; After the Ecstasy the Laundry; Everyday Zen; At Home in Muddy Water; Nothing Special Zen; Being Zen - Bringing Meditation into Life; Never Turn Away; Buddhism - Tools for Living your Life and Ending the Pursuit of Happiness.
This shift appears to have originated in the United States, in the Vipassana movement, Shambhala (inspired by its founder, Chogyam Trungpa), and a new Zen current. Charlotte Joko Beck, the most prominent pioneer of this last, dubbed it The Ordinary Mind School of Zen
Three Essential Preliminaries
Before we undertake an emotional awareness practice there are three essential understandings.
First of all, it is necessary to appreciate then when we are struck by some misfortune, great or small, we need to be able to separate out the objective fact of the misfortune from how we subjectively experience it, emotionally, physically and mentally. In the Sallatha Sutta the Buddha explained this distinction between pain and suffering from pain as follows:
When afflicted with a feeling of pain those who lack inner awareness sorrow, grieve and lament, beating their breasts and becoming distraught. So they feel two pains, physical and mental. It is just like being shot with an arrow, and right afterwards being shot with a second one, so that they feel two arrows.
It is common experience that individuals tend to respond in often quite different ways when all are struck by a common affliction, as with patients in the same hospital ward and with much the same medical condition. Thus, when we receive that letter of dismissal, or news of that feared diagnosis, it were best to resist the impulse to respond immediately and instead to open in meditative awareness to how it feels. We shall then be in a better position to respond without our judgement being so clouded fear, panic, anger and similar emotional responses.
In the second place, it is important to understand the difference between pain, whether physical or emotional, on the one hand, and our characteristic response, which is called dukkha, in Pali, and rather misleadingly translated as "suffering". Here it will be helpful to go back briefly to basics, to the Three Signs of Being - insubstantitiality, impermanence and dukkha (suffering). Because of the first two, suffering arises. They engender in us a sense of lack, a profound existential insecurity. We struggle to evade this by attempting to fill our lives with behaviours and ideas which we hope will give us a strong sense if identity, and, conversely, by striving to evade all those misfortunes, discomfitures and set-backs which undermine our sense of being a Somebody who has control over his or her life. Our characteristic responses are summarised in the traditional Three Fires of anger (and, socially, militarism), greed (and consumerism), and ignorance (the mass media).
Thus, suffering, in the Buddhist sense, can be characterised as the emotional pain arising from the futility of our attempts to evade whatever threatens our delusive sense of identity. Such evasions may take the form of strongly held beliefs, such as that the spiritual ideal is to be able to face physical or emotional pain fearlessly. This attempts to fortify an impregnable identity of "fearlessness". Yet the more we struggle to deny or somehow rid ourselves of fear, the more frightened we become. Ultimately our only liberation lies in the wholehearted acceptance of fear, breathing awareness into the heart of the pain, feeling its texture, becoming intimate with it. Thus, in the Udana the oldest scripture in the Pali Canon, the Buddha advises on what's to be done with a leaking roof - take it right off, and then the rain can no longer fall through it...
Our evasions in the face of life's discomfitures have strong emotional roots, of which we tend to be unaware. Some of our evasions are hot ones, most notably anger, particularly if it felt as righteous, reasonable (and maybe even well-researched!) anger. This takes our mind off the sense of frustration and powerlessness which causes our suffering and gives the ego the boost it craves. This works even better if we can project it onto someone else or some other group whom, we believe, can be held responsible. "Someone must be to blame!" Then there are the "I am to blame" evasions, notably self-pity and guilt. Here we unconsciously feel we can mitigate our suffering somehow by beating ourselves up. There are also a variety of more specifically addictive and obsessive evasions, ranging from recreational sex to hard drugs. These are evasions where we are so over-indulgent with the feelings that we act them out without fully experiencing them. Then there are the "cooler" evasions, of which four are noteworthy: denial, escaping into busyness, objectification and rationalisation, where we try to bury the feeling with thinking. These are commonly found working together. We try to bury our emotional response, to view the misfortune as somehow external to us, to strive for a "rational" solution, and to immerse ourselves being busy working at it. This is one way, for example, of evading the emotional pain of an alarming medical diagnosis. In my experience these four are common masculine responses, sometimes accompanied by an inability to describe what is actually being felt. Most of us seem to have one or two favourite evasions, and it would be worthwhile to reflect what these might be. However, the basic emotional awareness practice is simply to become intimate with just how it feels, which itself can expose and dissolve whatever evasions are overlaying the raw emotions.
Thirdly, in undertaking emotional awareness practice it is important to develop mindfulness of our habitual response to the many and various discomfitures encountered in life, ranging from the loss of some favourite trinket to the prospective loss of our lives. What is required is to replace the above evasive responses with a spirit of positive and curious enquiry, neither suppressing the response nor expressing it. Of course, it takes considerable practice to reverse our customary and deeply embedded reaction to bad news. Thus the Zen philosopher Hubert Benoit warns as follows:
If an humiliating circumstance turns up, offering me a marvellous chance of initiation, at once my imagination strives to conjure up what appears to me to be in danger... It does everything to restore me to that habitual state of satisfied arrogance in which I find a transitory respite, but also the certainty of further distress. In short, I constantly defend myself against that which offers to save me; foot by foot I fight to defend the very source of my unhappiness.
This practice appears to receive some treatment in all the Buddhist traditions, but especially in the Tibetan, where beginning students are exhorted to make the difficulties in their lives into their path of practice. "Grant that I may be given appropriate difficulties and sufferings on this journey so that my heart may be truly awakened" is a prayer they recite. Similar teachings are to be found in other inner-path religious traditions. This by the Persian Sufi poet Rumi is particularly eloquent;
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all
even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture.
Still treat each guest honourably
he may be clearing you out
for a new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
for each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
Indeed, there is a universal wisdom here, as in Shakespeare's As You Like It : "Sweet are the uses of adversity which, like the toad, ugly and venomous, yet wears a precious jewel in his head."
Where Does Your Shoe Pinch?
The ups and downs of our lives constitute our inner workshop-from despair to elation, the whole gamut of pains and pleasures. Yes, pleasure too, is worth opening up to the light of bare awareness. Is it a pleasure that burns with the smoke of evasion - the need for the lonely, vulnerable ego to maximise the red letter days ? Or does it burn with the bright flame of the "sheer pleasure" of an unconditional awareness ? With practice we can begin to sense which is which at least at the more extreme ends of the continuum.
Working with our suffering, however, concentrates and motivates best, and especially where the pain is acute. The value of this practice is well expressed by Zen Master Susan Murphy, in Upside Down Zen:
What is the sharpest fact in your life right now ? Take a moment to consider your most haunting terror, your most persistent aggravation or relentless criticism of yourself, or a deep pain you have taken upon yourself. Feel it in your body. That terror, aggravation, shame or sadness is your dearest enemy ... all your creative power for the Way is to be found right there ... so turning that way is turning toward your true freedom ... Such is the blessing to be found in a curse. Practice is not just a matter of breaking through the fact of suffering, but realising that suffering is a Dharma gate which lies open to you.
So a first task is to take stock of our lives, and to identify what discomfits us, great and small. And how we typically respond to it. This, in itself, is a useful undertaking. If Buddhism is essentially about "suffering and the way out of suffering", then how about you ? Most of us, for example, experience some deep sense of inadequacy, or maybe guilt. At a deeper level still we may feel that something is profoundly lacking in our lives, or we may be haunted by existential fear or anxiety. Or we may suffer the physical pain arising from ill health or disability. At the other extreme we may be dogged by some comparatively petty annoyance, like the untidiness of a shared household. And then there are all the difficulties and discomfitures that are commonly encountered at work and in families and relationships. And here is Diana Winston, of the (American) Buddhist Peace Fellowship on the pain of disempowerment and despair at the prospects for our planet:
I have been much struck by my own (and others') painful sense of hopelessness and disempowerment in the face of the deteriorating global situation. It doesn't matter that I have been an activist for twenty years. It doesn't make any difference the fact that in the last few months I've been to rallies, painted placards, and lobbied. At the bottom of it all there's this horrible feeling that it's all kind of hopeless.
The taste of liberation is one taste, and so insight arising from working with a comparatively minor aggravation can nonetheless be beneficial when we are struck by some greater misfortune. However, great grief has the potential for great insight, so it were best to work with the strongest emotions that we can handle.
The Practice of Emotional Awareness
Chogyam Trungpa summarised the practice as follows: "Let yourself be in the emotion. Go through it, give in to it, experience it ... then the most powerful energies become absolutely workable rather than taking you over, because there is nothing to take over if you are not putting up any resistance." This is amplified by Morrie Schwartz, as quoted by Jack Kornfield in his book After the Ecstasy, the Laundry:
Take any emotion - love for a woman, or grief for a loved one, or what I'm going through - fear and pain from a deadly illness. If you hold back from the emotions - if you don't allow yourself to go all the way through them - you can never get to be detached, you're too busy being afraid. You're afraid of the pain, you're afraid of the grief. You're afraid of the vulnerability that loving entails. But by throwing yourself into these emotions ... you experience them fully and completely. You know what pain is. You know what love is. You know what grief is. And only then can you say, "Alright, I've experienced that emotion ... now I'm free to detach from that emotion..."
On the face of it, it's easy enough to understand. Suffering arises from our ultimately hopeless struggle to evade physical and emotional pain. If we can accept that pain in the depths of our heart, then we are released from suffering. However, the impulse to try to evade pain is perhaps the deepest instinct that we have. Hence the practice of emotional awareness - of becoming intimate with pain -- is a demanding and lifetime undertaking, to be pursued on a strong meditative foundation.
The wider significance of the practice lies in the context of an "Everyday Buddhism", shifting the focus to awareness of the emotional ups and downs of our lives. However, meditation on the cushion and in intensive retreat remains important as maturing a stillness of mind within which everyday practice can be undertaken to maximum effect.
In summary. emotional awareness practice here means opening to awareness of the emotions (especially a discomfiture) as experienced so far as possible in the body, and breathing in that awareness to wherever it is physically experienced. The practice moves through the following four steps, which can be expanded and repeated as needs be, on the cushion or elsewhere, and also as a guided meditation.
First, - Thoughts: What thoughts are going through the mind? Try to acknowledge them simply as mental events, reflecting your present feelings (and maybe sensations also). At times of emotional distress thoughts commonly arise as what are in effect futile evasions. Typically they take the form of endless ruminations bemoaning one's misfortunes and inadequacies and gnawing away at what is to be done about them. Such thoughts may reflect the underlying story which we tell ourselves about our life and who we suppose we are.
Secondly - Emotions: What are you presently feeling? Good, bad or indifferent? Working with discomfiture, great or small -- the "unwelcome guests" - is particularly valuable. More valuable still it is if we can expose those deeper and habitual emotional configurations which we have unconsciously shaped in our lifelong struggle to sustain a well defended selfhood. A profound sense of inadequacy, of lack, is the human default position... In some cases it may be helpful to recall and re-imagine episodes in which the pain was particularly acute and vivid, as in the case of an interpersonal encounter. Others may find it helpful continually to repeat a question like "What does it feel like?" until it envelopes their life.
Thirdly - in the Body: This is a practice which requires to be pursued as much as possible in the body; as Master Dogen observed, "Awareness of the body is the body's awareness." All our emotional experiences are at the same time physical experiences, as in the well known sensations of fear or anger, and it with these that we must endeavour to become intimate. Mindful yoga and body scan practices are valuable in generally tuning up a sense of physical awareness.
So, can you sense some physical location of your present discomfiting emotions? Posture? Tightness in the belly or the heart space? In the neck or shoulders? With practice we may even become aware of the colour, taste and smell of some acute emotional pain - as with the crimson of anger, or the blue of self-pity.
Fourthly - the Breath: Physical awareness of the emotions is made more acute by breathing awareness into the particular bodily seat of our emotional discomfiture, and breathing out from it on each out-breath. In the Tibetan tradition awareness is itself believed to have a healing quality. In the case of a general distress or depression where no specific physical location can be sensed, breathe into the belly or heart space - whichever feels most helpful. Ezra Bayda, in his book Being Zen, explains:
Intense emotional distress can leave us feeling lost and overwhelmed. In these darkest moments the practice is to bring awareness to the centre of the chest, breathing the painful emotions, via the inbreath, directly into the heartspace. It's as if we were breathing the swirling physical sensations right into the heart. Then, on the outbreath, we simply exhale. We're not trying to do or change anything; we're simply allowing our heart centre to become a wider container of awareness within which to experience distress.
Another method is to journal. You jot down feelings when they arise. Then, at a certain time daily or less frequently (depending on your "catch"). Then, in Norman Fischer's words, you choose one of the words you've jotted down and then write rapidly and spontaneously for ten to fifteen minutes, pen never leaving the paper, whatever comes to mind, no matter how nonsensical or irrelevant it may seem. In this way you empty out your swirling mind. You curate your own exhibition of negativity. It can be quite entertaining and even instructive."
Three personal testimonies may provide useful pointers. They are taken from several such in Susan Moon's valuable book Not Turning Away: The Practice of Engaged Buddhism. The first I have chosen is a response to the distress caused by racism: "Buddhism allows me to be right were I am at this moment. I do not have to condemn or approve my anger and pain. Neither do I have to deny those feelings. I can simply be with them, observing their rising and falling, their impact on me and others." The second is about childhood abuse by a father: "If shame is all you have, embrace, what you have. Honour it and care for it with all your attention and kindness. In your own grief you will find the power to convert shame into compassion." Thirdly, the heartfelt and absolute embracing of chronic mental illness: "For me, recovering from mental illness would be like recovering from being human. The manic highs and depressive lows I have experienced for all these years are, for better or worse, part of who I am."
Finally, here is Pema Chodron's forthright advocacy of 24/7 emotional awareness: ("Shambhala Sun" Sept.2009):
"If you grab every opportunity to work with your mind - at home, at school, at work - you'll end up with more chances to work with strong emotions than in one hour of sitting on your cushion with some vague idea of 'meditation'. In fact, your practice of working directly with your mind moment to moment will be much more powerful, because it will really change your mainstream. When you recognise an emotion with mindfulness, and penetrate it with some recognition of the nature of mind, that process is self-transforming. There's nothing more you need to do. When you can work with your mind in this way, you will clearly see its effect, not just in you, but in your environment - on your family and on your community."
Emotional Awareness as a Liberative Path
How does this practice of a deepening intimacy with our discomfitures and distress open us up to a liberative acceptance and, indeed, a veritable empowerment ? The question is of more than mere speculative interest, and understanding can provide valuable support and encouragement to the practice.
Krishnamurti once held up his thumb and forefinger and decalred that all the miseries of the world arlse from that little gap, the difference between this (which is desired) and that (which is rejected). He is referring to that constant flicker between desire and rejection which is one of the first phenomena we notice when we sit in meditation with a sufficiently still mind as to be able to observe the root activity of the mind. This is sometimes called The Higher Third. This mode of experience when we are able to rest in the suchness of a situation, just-how-it-is, brings an immediate sense of release from the constant struggle for this and against that which puts lines on our face and stresses, tightens and wears out the whole of our body. At last we begin to sense our "true nature", our "Buddha Nature" where suffering loses its grip.
This suchness has been expressed in Zen through koans, poetry and ways of pointing beyond the logic of this and that, to just-how-it-is. It is found, for example, in both contemporary Western haiku and ancient Japanese waka, as in these examples from an Irish haiku poet, Jim Norton, and the celebrated Japanese 13th Century master, Eihei Dogen (where it takes the form of a veritable koan):
Coughing If you ask "What is Buddha?"
and the stranger upstairs an icicle
coughs too hanging from a mosquito net
The latter recalls a koan which asks the student where there is a place which, in winter, is neither hot nor cold. In the experience of suchness, that is a place where the temperature is just as it is, beyond the relativities of "hot" and "cold". Dogen again, in his Eihei Koroku, writes: "Do you not see, the clouds in the highest mountains disperse themselves - what 'far' or 'near' is there ? The river winds its way though the valley without THIS or THAT." As the ancient Chan poem, the Hsin-Hsin-Ming, reminds us, "When you are not attached to anything, all things are as they are."
So, whether it is a difficult colleague at work, a spouse behaving disagreeably, an obstreperous child, or a burdensome aged parent, in Dogen's words, "every creature covers the ground it stands on; it never falls short of its completeness." Quite suddenly we may, for the very first time, see any of these troublous people in their own light, not ours, and the relationship can become more manageable.
The power of suchness can also liberate us from the suffering of impermanence, with help from koans like the magnificent "There is no time, what is memory?" The Buddha said: "It is a way of deep meditation to see that the past no longer exists and the future has not yet come, and to dwell at ease in the present moment, free from desire. When a person lives in this way they give up all anxiety and regrets, letting go of all binding desires and cutting the fetters that prevent them being free."
At times when we may feel lonely, afraid and unable to find any meaning in our lives, if we open whole heartedly to our despair we can find ourselves experiencing that creatively rich suchness that has about it a bitter authenticity. This is what Keats called negative capability, "when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason."
A valuable first hand testimony to the workings of emotional awareness comes from Darlene Cohen, in her book Turning Suffering Inside Out. Cohen is a Zen teacher and a massage therapist who has for long suffered from severe and progressively crippling arthritis. She writes as follows:
People sometimes ask me where my healing energy comes from. How, in the midst of this pain, this implacable slow crippling, can I encourage myself and other people? My answer is that my healing comes from my bitterness itself, my despair, my terror ... I dip down into that muck again and again, and then am flooded with its healing energy. Despite the renewal and vitality I get from facing my deepest fears, I don't go willingly when they call. I've been around that wheel a million times: first, I feel the despair, but I deny it for a few days; then, its tugs become more insistent in proportion to my resistance: finally, it overwhelms me and pulls me down, kicking and screaming all the way. It's clear I am caught, so at last I give up to this reunion with the dark aspect of my adjustment to pain and loss. Immediately the release begins: first, peace, and then the flood of vitality and healing energy.
I can never simply give up to my despair when I first feel it stir. You'd think after a million times with a happy ending, I could give up right away and just say, "Take me, I'm yours" but I never can. I always resist ... It's staring defeat and annihilation in the face that's so terrifying; I must resist until it overwhelms me. But I've come to trust it deeply. It's enriched my life, informed my work, and taught me not to fear the dark.
Clarity and Joy, Self-love and Playfulness
When we begin to sense that our lifelong and unwinnable law suit with reality is simply unnecessary we experience a liberative relief, a clarity and joy, and a release into a strange playfulness in the midst of the world's black tragi-comedy. Released into a limitless, flowing world of great beauty and infinite possibilities, we dance the dance of impermanence and insubstantiality. For, as Oscar Wlde joked, that world "is in too much of a mess to be taken seriously." Which is why it is said of the bodhisattvas that they go down to rescue souls out of hell and treat it as if it were a fairground.
Self-acceptance frees off self love, of just who we are, beyond better or worse. And to love ourselves is surely the most difficult kind if love. For a start, is there not a danger of falling into narcissism or self-righteousness? I think not, if self -love awakens with the objective clarity of authentic insight, as something given, not taken. But it may be asked how can I love a self which has been guilty of so many follies which have hurt others? Unless we "honour" our follies we remain divided against ourselves. But to honour them is not to condone them or forget and dismiss them Rather is it to remain in awareness of them as hurts we have committed against others and ourselves, accepted with compassion for ourselves Thus, in the Soto Zen tradition at the dawn meditation the Verse of Atonement is chanted: "All evil karma ever committed by me since of old, on account of my beginningless greed, anger and ignorance, born of my body, mouth and thought, now I atone for it all."
Self love, springing from wholehearted acceptance of ourselves, is made possible by faith - faith in our Buddha Nature, our basic goodness. The dawning of faith is the major waymark on the Way of emotional awareness, sustained previously only by belief. It is the faith of Mother Julian of Norwich, and of mystics down to the poet T. S. Eliot: "All shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well." "All manner of things" and not only the self. Yet it is authentic self love which makes possible unreserved love for everything else. As the Buddha observes in the Udana: "I visited all quarters with my mind, but did not find any dearer than myself. His or her self is likewise dear to every other , and those who loves themselves will never harm another."
Active Compassion: Opening to the Bodhisattva Path
Dwelling in suchness we are relieved of our self-centred preoccupation, our root priority of sustaining a strong self-identity. We are released into an open awareness-identity, in which the dualism of self and other begins to dissolve into the experience of unity consciousness, of at-oneness with all that was formerly sensed as other.
Arguably, it seems at this stage there is possible some flaw, some incompletion, by which the adept can get stuck in a blissful state of quietism. Could it be that this is the loftiest and most subtle form of spiritual materialism? In our own time proponents of a socially engaged Buddhism have been reproached for failing first to gain "enlightenment", less their spiritual immaturity should only contribute to the existing confusion in the world. Unfortunately, for contemporary Westerners, at any rate, "enlightenment" tends to be a rather exclusive and remote experience, especially if the term refers not just to a momentary experience but to the substantially completed cultivation an enlightened personality, that is, of wisdom and compassion. Hence this view was dubbed "Mañana Buddhism" by that doughty champion of engaged Buddhism, David Brandon. And at that time, another such, Roshi Robert Aitken maintained that it is through skilful awareness in navigating the ups and downs of social activism that we can ripen the wisdom and compassion of the bodhisattva. Master Dogen, the greatest of Zen philosopher monks made it clear that "those who regard worldly affairs as an obstacle to their training do not realize that there is nothing such as worldly affairs to be distinguished from the Way." Dogen scholar Hee-Jin-Kim has argued the importance of daitoku, of making an active project of our lives. "In Dogen's view things, events, relations were not just given, but were possibilities, projects and tasks that can be carried out and understood as self-expressions and self-activities of the Buddha Nature. This did not imply a complacent acceptance of a given situation, but requires our strenuous efforts to transform and transfigure it. This element of transformation has been grossly neglected by Dogen scholars."
The other side of the suchness coin is the world experienced as this-versus-that, (or, more accurately, the experience of suchness turns it into this-and-that). In this world as we age, death does indeed come closer; we still have too little time to write the report required by our boss; we are faced with choices about the resolution of a difficult personal relationship; we may lose our job and have to clarify options as our next step. Sometimes we may experience such situations with the eye of a newfound suchness, and at other times in terms of this-and-that. This has been called a "salt-and-pepper" stage. But as we embody our wisdom this seeming paradox (to the logical mind) dissolves into a single, unified experience. As the Heart Sutra says "Form is no other than emptiness, emptiness no other than form." The following paraphrase of a teaching by R.H. Blyth points to this "one mind":
Things may be hopeless,
but not dispiriting;
but not hateful;
but not desirable;
but not rejected.
And here is a variant from Eric Fromm's Revolution of Hope:
"Engaged spirituality is the strength and joy of people who have
without being FANATICAL
Who are LOVING
without being SENTIMENTAL.
without being UNREALISTIC
without being SUBMISSIVE"
Or, as Donald Rothberg has it: "Righteous indignation with a smile, and deep inner pain without bitterness or revenge."
It is through years of maturing and creative awareness of the suffering in our lives and in others' that we grow into wisdom and compassion, into a self at ease which is an unburdened self which cannot but be open to the needs of others. As William Blake put it, our windows of perception are cleansed, and this clarity enables us to move in the world without the "mind forged manacles" of fear and ideology.
At the extreme end of emotional awareness practice is the "Dark Night" when the hero or heroine hits rock bottom, in total despair, with nowhere else to go. What may happen then may be intuitive, spontaneous, and unprepared by any overt spiritual practice. It is a revelatory "acceptance" that frees us of all illusions, all evasions, whether of activism or quietism, and which enables authentic and appropriate response to what the situation may require. There is considerable biographical testimony for such "despair and empowerment". In Easterhouse, a huge squalid housing estate on the outskirts of Glasgow, Cathy McCormack, spoke of her despair after seven years of unemployment and crushing adversity: "I was so broken by it that I felt there was no point in living. I wanted to go to sleep and never wake up again. Then one day something happened. It was a kind of awakening; almost a spiritual experience ... I understood that my life is here in this place, and no fantasy of escape would help. This is where the wains must grow up and make their lives; here we must survive or perish together" (Reported by Jeremy Seabrook, in the Myth of the Market). Cathy McCormack was enabled to empower her fellow tenants, and to initiate regeneration projects to reverse the cycle of despair and deprivation.
The above exemplifies the archetype of "the broken hearted (and hence open hearted) warrior" - the bodhisattva, -- described by John Welwood:
If we are to remain open to life and engage with our world rather than succumbing to depression or cynicism we must learn how to live with a broken heart. The heart cannot actually break - it can only break open. When we feel both love for this work and the pain of this world of ours, together, at the same time, the hear breaks out of this shell. Then we feel the world inside us and not separated from us. To live with a broken heart is to live life at full strength.
When the heart breaks open, it marks the beginning of a real love affair with this world. It is a broken hearted love affair, without the conventional hope and expectation. Only with this fearless love can we be of real help to ourselves or anyone else in this difficult age. The broken hearted warrior is an essential archetype for our time.
Here the gateless gate opens to the great koan NOTHING MATTERS, EVERYTHING MATTERS. Or, as Gary Snyder, poet and activist, puts it, "Knowing that nothing needs to be done is where we move from." We have to act as if our heads were on fire and the situation urgent, and yet as if we had all the time in the world.
The following by our own great Cockney mystic and agitator William Blake beautifully summarises this talk:
Man was made for joy and woe
And when this we rightly know
Through the world we safely go.
Joy and woe are woven fine -
A clothing for the soul divine;
Under every grief and pine
Runs a joy with silken twine.