She brings to those who love
The sweet fulfillment of
Their secret longing."
Leigh Harline and Ned Washington, 1940
who drive us crazy, can be our teacher.”
― Pema Chödrön
I had absolutely no idea what my next move would be. Over the years, I had often thought, "once the kids are grown, I can finally DO IT! I'd get to the monastery or ashram and find The Teacher -- then just cruise!" So much for that idea.
I wish it was always that easy.
The next morning, I ate crow (I had made a year's commitment), and announced my intention to leave. My favorite monk and mentor there, Ryushin, who would later become the Abbot of ZMM*, challenged me directly about breaking the commitment I'd made. "How can you live with yourself?" he demanded.
I replied that although I may have sometimes bailed too early on a commitmentin the past, the truth of the matter was that my usual modus operandi was to stick with something long after it was obvious that it made no sense to do so. I wasn't going to do that again. It was time to go. I don't know that he agreed with my decision but, bless his heart, he hugged me as I departed.
I think for a lot of us, the notion of "breaking free" from the incessant busyness and demands of life and heading to the hills to escape from the myriad responsibilities that seem to tie us up in our own knots seems quite appealing. For some of us geezers who had experienced that widespread Spiritual Awakening of the 60's, "the hills" often meant heading to the ashrams and monasteries, or the hermit's huts and caves to find someone that would provide us with the Ultimate Answers to Life. I, myself, had made a number of such journeys over the years as I stumbled ahead. My tour of duty at Zen Mountain Monastery was, I think, the final time I barked my shins on the way up the wrong tree.
Once again, I realized in a fundamental way the true spiritual journey for me was one of the integration of, not separation from, the "full catastrophe" of Life. To borrow another notion from Jon Kabat-Zinn, I finally realized that wherever I went, there I was.
This doesn't mean that I don't think there are Teachers and Teachings and Spiritual Communities that can provide us with a degree of support and guidance along the way. The opportunity to engage in intensive meditation retreats is a blessing and I am so grateful to have been able to dive deeply into days, weeks, and months of such settings over the years. I honor and respect the efforts of those who have dedicated their lives to these efforts and will continue to sing their praises. (In fact, I highly recommend that you attend a meditation retreat if you haven't yet. Even a full day or a weekend can be transformative.)
Once we discern that our deepest yearning is to love and help out as best we can, our Practice unfolds as both the means and the ends of cultivating the clarity, kindness, understanding, compassion, and equanimity to do that. With Practice we learn to be more fully Present, to engage life with all our sensory apparatus functioning. Rather than sleepwalk through our lives lost in our thoughts and daydreams, we awaken with a full and open heart --ready to rock!
At that point, everyone and everything becomes the Teacher and the Teaching!
What more could one wish for?