It’s been about a month since my first ever Ango-period ended. So, what did the Ango-period do for my practice?
- Practising with a spiritual community and a teacher in a structured way (weekly hour-long webinars, interviews with the teacher, working in pairs, studying the text and discussing in groups how the insights each of us got from coming in touch with Genjokoan can apply in our everyday lives, sharing about the challenges of practice) in itself brought more attention to all aspects of practice and boosted my motivation. I was no longer alone and felt accountable for the work and my attitude to it.
- Dosho’s discussion model with a few simple but powerful questions each webinar ending with the “And now what”? helped me to start seeing practice as a part of life on all levels and in all directions: in all kinds of relationships including work, in relating to myself and my own so called problems, inner emotional life, etc.
- It was my first time working with koans and I found this approach to be challenging and evocative at the same time. Not being able to rely on conceptual thinking and logical reasoning threw me off balance on a number of occasions. Just like sky gazing for some time can do when after a while nothing I know matters or has relevance for what is opening up and I keep falling and falling and wonder if I ever can come back… Come back to what?
- Dosho was pushing us all the time, raising the bar higher with every webinar (that is how I experienced it). At times I had a feeling it was too high for me but soon I saw that the idea came from approaching the text cognitively and when I’d fail it at again, I felt out of sync with others who seemed to get more out of it by allowing themselves to experience the text. The judging mind is the little mind and was not enough to embrace the depth and the vastness of Dogen-zenjo’s work.
- The possability of inviting a friend to join our webinars came in time when I really needed it. Andy, the kind and courageous soul, jumped in and possibly even got a little zennied :-).
- Somewhat surprising side-effect of the Ango: In the beginning of Ango I decided to abstain from alcohol for the duration of it. Not that I longed to make it harder for myself in any way but as a means of learning something about the perceived need, when it came up and how I could handle it when alcohol was out of the question. The ways we handled our desire for something at one point can become a habit and we simply don’t question this solution. I remember that about half-way through Ango I was writing in my blog entry that I was looking forward to uncorking the bottle of my favourite red wine. Guess what? I still haven’t done that. The more so, I gave away the bottle as a present and so far haven’t asked back for it. It seems that the new ways of handling the same situation work better than the old ones (or else uncorking the red I would be!). What I really learnt to appreciate is the clarity of mind that alcohol takes away. In some life situations this numbing effect of alcohol on the system is exactly why we might resort to it (to help us relax, dampen anxiety, distract or simply just take us “off line” physically and emotionally). I cannot say I do not find myself in those situations where a glass of wine earlier had been a desirable companion (for example enjoying a delicious meal with a friend after a heavy week) but I must be using a different response to those situations now. So for now it is like that! 🙂
- Another effect of Ango-period and working with a community is me joining a local group. As always when we are ready for something, the opportunity presents itself . Having experienced the benefits of practicing with others I did not want to go back to my practice as a hermit. I also decied to recommit to 1,5 hours sitting with another group on Saturday mornings.
- Working like this, side by side, is bound to lead to some frictions within ourselves and with others. I was curious to see how this would be handled by all of us and the teacher. The questions we were confronted with were: How do we tell our stories? How do we listen to other people’s stories? What do we hear in each other’s stories? Some of the stuff that came up for me I am using now in working with the shadow.
And now what?
I hear Dosho is planning on continuing the work with another Ango-period, starting in February 2010 and look at my favourite cook book av all times, Dogen-zenji’s practical manual Instructions for Zen cook. After all, cooking our lives is what we do all day long and we are the ones eating it up!