Well, maybe the new way will not be better. But it surely will be different. In retrospective I find that it is definitely worth trying: an external shift makes it easier to take a new perspective which is always enriching. Besides, it’s a great opportunity to learn something new about my own reactivity and resistance to change that I don’t approve of.
For a while I was at a loss: should I encourage my sangha-friend to open up to this change and at least give this new way a try? I noticed how my thoughts went in different directions almost simultaneously: one side of me was concerned with my self-image (how will this influence how others see me?); another side was glad the person spoke up; yet another one wished he had said something in the line of “I feel uncomfortable and disconnected from the sangha by splitting into groups for the discussion but I am willing to give it a try”. A friend and sangha-member helped me out by voicing the need she sensed coming from the person, that of connection, which I heard in the beginning but lost when it did not make sense to me (splitting into groups is not the same as splitting the sangha!)
Suddenly I felt the tiredness of the last few weeks coming down on me. I saw the person next to me, also quite tired and obviously very uncomfortable. I backed off, invited everyone to rejoin the circle and do it the way we used to do. I felt relieved as the peace in the room was restored and we could finally turn to the poem which, incidentally, was about impermanence and not clinging to the solid picture of the world we carry with us.
During the discussion one person said that he thought we did not have to be shaped only by “some immense storm” but in fact could allow every little thing influence us. Back then that comment didn’t strike a chord with me but as I am writing this I can see how our everyday lives here in the West are not that stormy but still consist of countless situations in which we can allow ourselves to get softer, let go of holding on to the ways we are comfortable with for the moment. A sensitive soul can feel the touch of a breeze…
The other day I realised that I was not entirely done with the episode. In my mind I’d go back to that situation and wonder if as a sangha we are not supposed to help each other grow and encourage to stay with the discomfort of our ego not getting what it demands. During that week we received a new homework exercise from Dosho that included visualisation of my practice partner and invitation to reflect on what I could offer her, “How precisely could you serve the truth through this person or group?” The exercise, as Dosho explained to me, was meant “to soften the heart so that we can meet the people with an open heart rather than come from preconceptions”. The minute I read the exercise, I felt resistance rising inside like a tsunami wave, activating the internal chatter of the the Ms-know-it-all. “This is one strange exercise. Imagining the other person and their needs is creating a mental construct of them and my own concepts about their needs that might be entirely different from those needs. That sounds like second-guessing! Isn’t it more fruitful to visualise the sangha and my practice partner and send them loving-kindness and see what they need when I actually meet them in person?” And so it went on and on.
I guess I was not really willing to accept that my sangha-friend did not take an opportunity to challenge his ego as I sort of assumed that was a learning opportunity for him just as it was for me. I now see that I should focus on me and learning my lessons, as those acrobats in the Buddha story. The other person will take care of their growth themselves. I still don’t like the suggested by Dosho exercise and pretty much am of the same opinion about it but I am ready to give it a try. I am also glad that I spoke up and let Dosho know I did not find that exercise appealing and had resistance towards it.
My sangha-friend told me the other day that for her sangha is first and foremost about harmony. I like this idea. When dropping an attachment to an opinion or belief we often think we are losing something. I find that thinking in terms of gaining makes a defeat (in the conventional sense of the word) seem like a victory. Harmony in Dogen’s kitchen is achieved by placing things where they belong: things that naturally belong on a high place should go onto a high place and things that belong to a low place should go onto a low place. Sometimes I need to ask myself what thing belongs where and listen in. Where would it be more stable? Is my personal agenda, my idea of how things should be more important to me than sustaining harmony in the sangha? Where in life do I put things that belong to a low place onto a high place and vice versa?