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Posts Tagged ‘ideas’

Two weekends ago I participated in a Zen Seminar with the same title as this post: Living with No Gaining Idea. It is a rich topic and one that is very relevant to my life at this time. Zen is particularly focused on questions much more than the answers. When you know something in the traditional sense, it is no longer alive, its becomes static. A question is living, dynamic, exploratory. For example:

What is a gaining idea?

Why are gaining ideas so compelling?

What are we gaining through our gaining ideas?

Is it practical to live in this world with no gaining idea?

Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki says living with no gaining idea is getting rid of what’s extra.  But how do we know what is extra?

These questions and many more all swirled in our discussion and conversation. One of the first things I noticed after sitting with this topic is that as my life shifted in recent years from the realm of career to that of spirit, I found myself often not so much with gaining ideas as I did losing ideas. What I mean by losing ideas are those that sound like “If I only didn’t do this…. or If I could stop this habit…” On the surface they seem very different from gaining, but in actuality they have the same energetic quality: that of not accepting what is in this moment.  That is, seeking gain or loss from what is. That means the seminar could have been titled, Living with no Idea.  Hey, maybe we’re getting somewhere.  You might say, I don’t live with an idea, I just live.  But if you look deeply I bet you’ll find what I like to call hidden assumptions about how the world works, how you exist in the world and in relation to others. These are all forms of unexamined ideas.

In the times of your greatest suffering or pain, what is actually happening? I’ve discovered that it is when these unexamined ideas are challenged and shown to be relative, partial views of reality. Its when the world, through your career, your partner or something else challenges this hidden assumption and forces you into a place of uncertainty. In this uncertainty, we have a choice – do we rapidly seek a new idea to stand upon, or can we rest in this unknowing? I would argue, in theory, that this is the only true way of being and that this unknowing is what Suzuki Roshi is speaking of by ‘getting rid of what’s extra’ to live with no gaining idea.

Therefore, whenever our activity (or doing) is organized by an idea, it is rather fragile. An opposing idea can easily knock us off balance. If we can’t trust ideas to base our life on, then what trust is possible? On what do we base our actions? This is maybe the crux of Zen and on what Zen Koan practice is based upon. Suzuki Roshi commenting on the famous one hand clapping koan:

We say, "To hear the sound of one hand clapping."
Usually the sound of clapping is made with two hands, and
we think that clapping with one hand makes no sound at all.
But actually, one hand is sound. Even though you do not hear
it, there is sound. If you clap with two hands, you can hear
the sound. But if sound did not already exist before you
clapped, you could not make the sound. Before you make it
there is sound. Because there is sound, you can make it, and
you can hear it. Sound is everywhere. If you just practice
it, there is sound. Do not try to listen to it. If you do not
listen to it, the sound is all over. Because you try to hear it,
sometimes there is sound, and sometimes there is no sound.
Do you understand? Even though you do not do anything,
you have the quality of zazen always. But if you try to find
it, if you try to see the quality, you have no quality.

For me, this discussion and Zen practice itself often lands on a common denominator: the practice of acceptance. When you say are accepting of a situation, is this a wholehearted acceptance, or is it acceptable because it meets certain conditions?  When a situation is unacceptable to you, do you work on this fundamental accepting, or do you, like me, find yourself all too often attempting to change external conditions so that the situation can once again fall under your idea of what is acceptable?

 

All we want to do is to know things just as they
are. If we know things as they are, there is nothing to point
at; there is no way to grasp anything; there is no thing to
grasp. We cannot put emphasis on any point. Nevertheless,
as Dogen said, "A flower falls, even though we love it; and
a weed grows, even though we do not love it ." Even though
it is so, this is our life.

In this way our life should be understood. Then there is
no problem. Because we put emphasis on some particular
point, we always have trouble. We should accept things just
as they are. This is how we understand everything, and how
we live in this world. This kind of experience is something
beyond our thinking. In the thinking realm there is a difference
between oneness and variety; but in actual experience,
variety and unity are the same. Because you create some idea
of unity or variety, you are caught by the idea. And you have
to continue the endless thinking, although actually there is
no need to think.

 

Thanks for listening to my ramblings.

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Thank you to everyone who wrote to me recently, I realize now that I projected an image of being quite pathetic a few days ago! I’m back in Kathmandu, looking at spending a week here as I wait for my India Visa to come through. I made the mistake of not beginning this process before my trek and am now faced with numerous days of queuing, waiting, queuing, waiting, and hopefully I’ll have a visa in my hand on Friday. Several people I met at the embassy had this turn into a multi-week saga. There are definitely worse places to be than Kathmandu. There is a great traveler vibe, an abundance of western comforts like book stores and coffee shops, perfect weather and cheap food. The major annoyances here are the tiger balm touts and excessive noise pollution. I didn’t do anything touristy on my first run through the city so I’m planning on seeing a few sights between coffee shop visits and blogging 🙂 I have not updated my blog since leaving Beijing over a month ago – sorry!

After my last post, I should clarify some things around my trip home. Its also time for everyone’s favorite post – my bi-monthly, “Reflections”. First, my decision to come home in December was actually made IMG_3904almost 2 months ago, during my travels in China. I reserved a flight using frequent flyer miles, knowing I would have the option to cancel the flight if I decided to stay on the road. I can’t quite recall my decision making process, but it was at this time where I began to feel a sense of momentum and speed to my travels that had gotten a little out of control. It was during this time that my plan to travel through Mongolia, back to Tibet and onward to Nepal and India became real, and the days ahead were no longer as free and open as I once envisioned. People since have asked or suggested – Why not just stop? Just sit still, change course and throw out all of the preconceptions? The irony is that this feeling was no different than one that nagged me the past couple of years at work. Its not that I didn’t want to go to the places I did – I very much did. Its more that there was an undercurrent of not being completely true to myself in some way or another.

  Its clear that there is something much more fundamental at work in one’s sense of freedom than outward appearances, physical location or commitment levels. Needless to say, I endeavored ahead. I saw and experienced an incredible amount in a few short months. I have not a single regret. But I am exhausted. I mentioned a few days ago that this feeling doesn’t go away no matter how much I rest. Its my body (and spirit I believe) telling me to go home and rest.

It’s not just for physical reasons that I am coming home. I’m considering my forthcoming time at home an opportunity, an exploration if you will. I significantly overestimated the amount of time I would have during travel for investigation of the more practical aspects of life. Examining career possibilities, networking with people from home and teaching myself Spanish were all on the list when I left. I laugh now, but in Japan I started a concept of using one day a week as a work day where I would sit in a hotel or coffee shop and do some of these things. The burdens of travel, the quality of Internet in 3rd world countries and the speed of my travels quickly made this an idea of the past. My notebooks are riddled with one liners and thought bubbles that require a 24 inch screen LCD, a comfy chair and Google to investigate more thoroughly. I find myself frequently wanting to reach out to call people, to discuss something, quickly to realize I’m nowhere near a phone or even if I am that its 4:37am in the Colorado. My business school professors would consider this a midyear review.

A midyear review in conjunction with setting ideas into action. This entire trip has been about ego deconstruction, self awareness and exploration of truth. Seeking to be a vessel of divine will, not a creature of whim and momentary desires. I’ve been able to sit with many different aspects of myself, digging deep into my habits and my conditioning. I’ve broken down a number of these to their roots, seen how certain fears and attachments to the past drive my actions and words. There are many, ohhhh so many, aspects of being that continue to ask for my patience and careful watch to reveal their true nature to me. The people and places of the world have been great gifts for me in this discovery process. But right now I want to experiment with the application of these gifts in my daily life in the place where I plan to spend a large part of my life – Colorado. The meaning of a retreat is to go away, reflect and to return. I mentioned in my 4 month reflections that long-term travel, the endless vagabond journey will never be my forte. I have collected many golden nuggets from this journey and my bag is getting a little heavy. Its time to bring them home and smelt them into something useful.

Why would I pick the coldest months of the year to return to Colorado? Well, steep turns in knee deep snow at Berthoud Pass comes to mind very quickly… 🙂

The truth is I’m just ready. I miss my family, my friends, the small daily joys of my existence in Boulder. And despite our countries share of problems and clear disregard for so many things – I’ve never missed her comforts and opportunities so much.

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