“Put those things that naturally go on a high place onto a high place, and those that would be most stable on a low place onto a low place; things that most naturally belong on a high place settle best on a high place, while those which belong on a low place find their greatest stability there.”
Dogen’s “Instructions for the Zen Cook” with commentary by Uchiyama Roshi, p. 5.
yesterday evening I facilitated the discussion at the gathering of my local meditation group. As a topic I chose a very rich in imagery and symbols poem by Rilke “The Man Watching”. I have been carrying it with me for about a month now, letting it incubate and listening in. There is still a lot in the poem that doesn’t make sense to me but there was a lot that struck a chord. Here’s how it starts:
by Rainer Maria Rilke
I can tell by the way the trees beat, after
so many dull days, on my worried windowpanes
that a storm is coming,
and I hear the far-off fields say things
I can’t bear without a friend,
I can’t love without a sister
The storm, the shifter of shapes, drives on
across the woods and across time,
and the world looks as if it had no age:
the landscape like a line in the psalm book,
is seriousness and weight and eternity.
What we choose to fight is so tiny!
What fights us is so great!
If only we would let ourselves be dominated
as things do by some immense storm,
we would become strong too, and not need names.
We had a very fruitful discussion that was deeply rooted in our personal experiences rather than trying to understand the meaning of all images. Or maybe we were trying out how the poem fit our personal experiences? Some of us initially reacted to the lines like “let ourselves be dominated” because we automatically translated it into “giving up”. After some reflection we came to the conclusion that it meant “surrender” and not “giving up” and to us the poem was about surrendering to Life itself based on trusting it and being willing to be shaped by the storms on our journey.
The following lines especially resonated with me:
When we win it’s with small things,
and the triumph itself makes us small.
I surely can recollect a number of times when winning left a bitter residue inside and did make me feel smaller. As one of the sangha-friends put it, “That was the win I did not want”. Often times these days when I find myself in an argument, I can notice the feverish drive of the ego towards winning, but then ask myself, “What is more important to me, to be right or to feel at peace (=to be free)?” In the end, it doesn’t really matter if the other person or myself consider me winning the argument (which means the other person lost it). Most likely I value both my relationship with the person and my emotional balance more than the short-term satisfaction of the ego. Recently I started noticing a shift taking place: from trying to explain my point of view or convince the person to adopt it towards respectful curiosity about how they think and what makes them interested in the issue. But boy is it hard: sometimes being right or at least feeling that I am right feels almost like the only way to exist. Giving it up is like giving up skin, so identified I sometimes am with my ideas.
Interestingly, the facilitation experience itself proved to be as insightful as discussing the poem. I arrived to the meet up with a clear idea as to how to we would be discussing the poem. I thought this time instead of keeping the circle and giving the floor to one person at a time, we would split into two groups and each person would have a chance to speak. I would keep an eye on the time and signal when it was time for the next person to talk. Very soon I discovered that one of the sangha-members had strong resistance to this form of discussion and voiced it loud and clear. He told me that he could not connect to the poem because he did not like the idea of the sangha being split. I asked him if he felt less connected to the sangha because we were no longer sitting in one circle and this seemed to be the case.
What to do? The format for the discussion did not really matter to me that much. This new for us format, I thought, would allow for a more interactive and intuitive exchange. I did not see splitting in groups for an hour as an expression of us no longer being connected. In fact, my other sangha, Ango-sangha for this period, is a digital one at the moment, in the sense that we are all in different countries and meet only online. Still I have a strong connection and know I can rely on my practice partner and the rest of the group to be there. Obviously, my sangha-friend saw it differently. What I heard was, “This is the way we used to do and I like it this way. I have no desire at all to at least try to do it any other way”.
From my personal experience I know that sometimes I feel resistance to change and am not enthusiastic to try something I consider to be worse. I think I know it cannot be better than this and even if it were, I’d like things to stay as they are.