As in the above mentioned story my own experience, too, unfolded on a road and in a somewhat chaotic and exotic for an outsider environment. The unusual situation made it easier for me to no longer be clinging to the old image of me and what I possibly could or could not do.
Master Dogen’s words start making more sense: “…to study yourself is to forget yourself; to forget yourself is to be awakened and realize your intimacy with all things.”
Can we become intimate with all things through conceptualising and analysing? My Dharma sister Sara (the cat that lives with me) never analyses anything and seems to be having a good life. I suspect that animals and kids do not go around rationalising the world and settle for simply living in it.
It is not easy to see myself with the new eyes when the surroundings are the same. Or are they? Through yoga and zazen I have learned that one way to not get trapped in the endless stories is to stay connected with the body and to follow it. It is more than just about the “gut” feeling. Our bodies are wired to collect and process the information so we can quickly respond to the situation but we believe the best decisions come from the head. Yet – applying the rational approach to this all-pervasive belief – can we really know that this is true? My own experience of overanalysing and overplanning has proved me wrong on more occasions that I would like to admit to myself and to Sara (the cat).
The society conditions us to not trust our bodies and override whatever they have to say to us. One example that comes to mind now is the diet pills that dampen the feeling of hunger. What they actually say is that hunger is something negative and is to be avoided. Yet how would we know when to start eating and when to stop if we don’t feel hunger to begin with?
Our bodies receive and store our emotions and by being curious about the ways we react by checking in with the body we can learn tons about ourselves. Yet again the society encourages us being “in control” of our emotions which takes the expression of stifling them.
Thomas J. Leonard writes about this: “What happens when immediate responses are stifled is that people lose track of the full measure of their feelings, along with many things they might have learned from the tendencies revealed by those responses. In order to appear competent and in control, they end up cultivating internal numbness, a widening distance between their minds and their bodies. Trying to preventing getting stuck in an overly reactive mode, they end up stuck in a response-containment mode, which blocks self-knowledge. And self-knowledge is the key to evolving”.* Leonard’s point is that being in tune with our feelings – positive as upsetting – allows us to pick up on all possible environmental clues and use this valuable information to create a more fulfilling life.
Being aware of one’s responses is not the same as flying off the handle and “losing it”. It is allowing myself to experience the feeling as it is – raw energy – and putting the story aside. Again – “Feel the feeling, drop the story”. However, it is exactly what we often have resistance to. I feel nervous about giving a call to the friend I had falling out with and not liking the feeling decide to not make this call and just let this opportunity go. Another way to approach the situation would be to feel the feeling, see where it comes from (some sort of expectation) and take the step anyway. I know a Zen teacher who would say that not making this call is alright, too, and I get it, I really do but honestly which of the two choices would I want to be a metaphor for my life?
…If you don’t break you ropes while you’re alive,
do you think
ghosts will do it after?…
Kabir, Ecstatic Poems (Translated by Robert Bly)