Your Own Heart, There is the Practice Hall
by Sensei June Tanoue

Brad Lewis volcano.jpg

Ua ola loko i ke aloha
Love gives life within
Love is imperative to one's mental and physical welfare
Mary Kawena Pukui

Iʻm on day 4 of a 7-day Zen silent meditation retreat called Sesshin.  Sesshin means to unify the mind-heart.  Iʻve noticed how far apart my mind and heart can become.  So Iʻm always thankful when sesshin time comes around. These retreats are so restorative and nurturing for me.  I can just sit and come home to my heart and spirit.

The first few days of sesshin can be hard as you transition from daily hectic life into a slower and more sane pace.  There are less distractions to pull your attention away from the core of the matter.  What is the core of the matter?  Thatʻs a good question. : )

So letʻs start at the beginning. Noticing how you feel is first.  I found I was exceedingly crabby the first three days of sesshin.  Nothing seemed to be right.  Everyone seemed to be doing something wrong or not the way I wanted it to go. I kept trying to find something or someone to blame for my discontent.  Itʻs an easy recipe to cook, and many people use it because itʻs really satisfying to blame someone else for your discontent.  But does it really work to end the distress that youʻre in?

Blaming others is not helpful because youʻre looking in the wrong place for an answer.  Plus, especially if youʻre a Buddhist, itʻs breaking the Buddhist precept to not speak of othersʻ errors and faults.  Itʻs not how to get to the heart of the matter.

In my case, I could easily project my discontent onto others and fall into a kind of victim mentality.  I was waiting for others to change so I could feel better about the situation.  But I have no control over others.  

I tried pushing my feelings away and hoped my annoyance would just disappear or magically change.  But your mess is still there if you donʻt clean it up.  Itʻs your mess after all.

I tried wishing my crabbiness away with thoughts like, "Iʻm a Zen Buddhist teacher not to mention a kumu hula (master hula teacher). I shouldnʻt be irritable and out of sorts!  I should be serene, magnanimous and full of aloha.  Go away crabbiness - I donʻt want you here!"  But of course negativity stuck to me even more when I tried to push it away.  It pervaded my body, mind and heart with its sticky tentacles.  I was the picture of suffering - like that guy in Peanuts with the dark cloud over his head all the time.

On the evening of the third day, I decided to face my discontent, instead of trying to wish it away. I remembered that our Zen practice is about including everything - even things we donʻt like.   

So I took a moment that night to say to my crabbiness, "Ok crabbiness, I see you.  Iʻm not going to push you away any more.  Iʻm going to bear witness to you, pay attention to you, and surround you with some loving kindness and empathy."  I focused on the feelings in my body and when thoughts arose, I noticed the thoughts but returned to the feelings in my body.

I realized that there was a hard little ball of irritation located somewhere in the middle of my chest area - inside my body.  I focused on surrounding this little dark ball with warmth and care.  Maybe just a few seconds passed - maybe more - and then the image of my heart came into my consciousness - a very sad and tender heart.  I really felt it.   

It surprised me because I didnʻt realize that my heart was so sad and tender until just that moment.  Thereʻs an exquisite, subtle pain that a sad and tender heart releases.  Something that we seem to want to avoid feeling at all costs.  But if we avoid it, we canʻt integrate it, canʻt welcome it into our experience and heal.

Such work with your heart is spiritual practice.  Itʻs about building patience, discipline, courage and love.  Itʻs important for waking up.  Your own heart, the practice hall.   

Malama pono (take good care of your body, mind, heart),

June Kaililani Ryushin Tanoue

Kumu Hula and Sensei

P.S.  Hereʻs 2017 Halau i Ka Pono Year in Review slideshow.  Happy Holidays to you and your ʻohana (family)!

 

Robert Althouse

Zen Life & Meditation Center, Chicago, 38 Lake Street, Oak Park, IL, 60302