We have to encounter what we need to transcend.
Student: I am having a difficult time with the many rules at the Monastery- custody of the eyes, changing shoes, washing hands, not being social...it goes on and on. I thought Zen was laid back, but instead I am finding out how rigid and structured it is! Why do you have so many rules?
Facilitator: We have many guidelines but only one rule: We will use everything in our experience to see how we cause ourselves to suffer so we can drop that and end suffering.
The guidelines in our practice help us to see how we cause ourselves to suffer. They are structures that assist us to pay attention, to notice, and to be present to what is arising in the moment. They shock us out of our conditioned behaviors, shake us out of our default orientations, and compel us to scrutinize unexamined beliefs and unconscious assumptions.
- What am I doing that I can't remember to wear socks to the meditation hall?
- Where is my attention that I forgot to wash my hands before fixing my dinner plate?
- How is it that I am not aware of the way my eyes follow people all the time?
In other words, guidelines assist us to see how the process of suffering-egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate-operates. Guidelines call ego out of hiding. No wonder ego resists all those "rules"!
"This is stupid."
"I don't want to."
"I'd rather not."
"I can't do this."
"How is this Zen practice?"
Following guidelines is training in cultivating conscious compassionate awareness. It is a gentle and compassionate introduction to the larger struggle that we are engaging in! We may not realize it when we start out in practice that what we are saying yes to is a way of transformation that involves nothing less than the demise of the ego.
The ego has no interest in departing. It will struggle mightily to hold on. In fact one of its primary tactics is to make practice so miserable we will quit.
We have to remember that we are not that which struggles! Guidelines provide the structure within which to practice our walk to freedom.
The voices talk us into avoiding anything painful or difficult. We are conditioned to believe that being free of suffering is to eliminate, escape, or alter the content of our lives. "Get rid of the pesky partner, give up the practice, quit that job, fire that troublesome employee." Freedom, on the other hand, is being all right in the middle of the hardest circumstances. So the next time ego has you on the ropes, see if you can stop resisting the process. Can you see it as interesting, as an encounter of transformation, as a gift that assists you to see how suffering operates? Notice how that changes your relationship to the circumstances.
Make a recording that reminds you that you are an adventurer, that you want to encounter the karma you need to transcend, and that you welcome any guidance or information from Life that will assist you in the process of awakening. Make sure to include a reminder that when the going gets rough what struggles is ego and what emerges is conscious compassionate awareness.