"For the mind in harmony with the Tao all selfishness disappears.
With not even a trace of self-doubt, you can trust the universe completely.
All at once you are free, with nothing left to hold on to.
All is empty, brilliant, perfect in its own being."
from Mind of Absolute Trust
It is hard for us to trust. We've been let down by others, disappointed, and betrayed. We are vulnerable and our heart has been broken many times. So it's easy to contract and build a fortress against the cruelty and meaness of the world. We may cultivate a sophisticated cynicism that prides itself in our stubborness, determined to never allow anyone to make a fool out of us again.
Zen training is hard because we are so stubborn. We resist opening and staying with what is. Our conditioning is very strong. But the self we are trying to protect is an illusion, a house built of sand that will not stand. It will not buoy us up when life's difficulties come knocking at our door.
A mind in harmony with the Tao is without self. We learn how to do this by persisting in our commitment to the dharma. Such persistence doesn't wear us out by forcing us into a tight corner as stubborness does. It teaches us how to walk in the dark without fear. LIke a donkey on a treacherous mountain path, we can find our footing in the cracks of life where ambiguity is the only light to be seen.
Our conditioning is based on fear and lack of trust. We contract when confronted with pain. There are so many ways to be distracted from remaining on the razor's edge of our life. Rilke has a poem about this called, "Sometimes a Man Stands Up During Supper"
"Sometimes a man stands up during supper
And walks outdoors, and keeps on walking,
Because of a church that stands somewhere in the East.
And his children say blessings on him as if he were dead.
And another man, who remains inside his own house,
Dies there, inside the dishes and in the glasses,
So that his children have to go far out into the world
Toward that same church, which he forgot."
A life not fully tested is a sad one of wasted potential. It remains a life that does not venture out to risk failure, but instead constructs a cocoon of habits around itself made up of comfortable cliches and abstractions. The room is stuffy and claustrophobic. The weird, flickering, spasms of T.V. light fill the room to ward off death for another sleepless night.
Zen training turns off the T.V. set, opens the windows to let in some fresh air, and rips up our comfortable newspaper clippings that we have been saving. It sits us down in an empty room with nothing to hold on to. Here we begin to learn how to trust what is fundamental and elemental. Like a great red wood tree in an old growth forest, we become unshakable. Our attention does not wander or stray. We remain. We stay. We breathe. This is how we learn to trust our experience as it is.
When we trust in this way, we develop a proper relationship to things. We appreicate the simple things, tools, cups, baskets, and socks. We know where to look and are not easily distracted. Sitting helps our resolve to continue in this way and the quality of our attention teaches us how to bear witness when what aries is unknown, threatening or frightening.
Producing a particular result is not the point. Simply being here is. When we live our life in this way, we value our intentions and vows, rather than our opinions and judgments. Trusting the Tao, the universe will lead us where we need to go. The path may be convoluted and windy, but we are surprised, looking back, how high we have climbed. The view is breath taking, panoramic and spacious. Here we are not concerned about winning or losing. We are at home in our own skin and at ease with the universe.
And the church we went searching for in the east is not where we thought it would be. It's where we are now. If we're in a valley, it's not on the mountain. If we're on a mountain, it's not in the valley. Trust this and you will find your way. You will learn how to sing your life's song with confidence and unerring accuracy.
Robert Joshin Althouse