"Mindfulness Practice isn't just about escaping to some magical inner realm devoid of life's challenges. The Practice is about calming your mind and opening your heart enough to engage Life directly, to be more fully Present in a kind, clear, and helpful way."

Your MMM Courtesy Wake Up Call! The Musings of a Long-time Student of Meditation

Friday, February 15, 2019

Nothing Special. No Big Deal. (Part One)

"Though my heart burns like a glowing hot coal, 
my eyes are as cold as dead ashes"
--  Soyen Shaku, Roshi

"If nothing is special, everything can be."
-- Charlotte "Joko" Beck, Nothing Special, Living Zen

Mother Nature's roller coaster ride continues.

After another significant snow storm this past week, She turned on a dime and started to rain.  

Now, a couple of days later, the National Weather Service is peering at a day in the lower 50's in their computerized crystal ball.  (We've already seen the temps swing from -11°F to 62°F over the course of four days earlier this month!) 

WTF?

Gazing at the melting snow outside the window, my mind can readily create a rant about the specter of global climate change. There certainly appears to be ample scientific evidence that we humanoids are stewing in our own juices.  Damn.

On the other hand, having seen lots of my friends suffer through some sort of nasty respiratory bug again this winter, I can readily forget about the global condition and narrow my horizons. What about a freakin' personal climate change! Why in the world don't I move my tail to warmer winters?  

But, wouldn't that be selfish?  Shouldn't I get off my tail and try to do something about the proposed change in the local zoning ordinance that may bring on more environmental degradation.

Buzz. Buzz. Yada yada yada.

Jeez Louise!

A Breath of Fresh Air

A grin.  One slow, deep breath  -- and "poof!"  

Sitting a bit straighter at the computer, feeling the sensations of my breath and body, I come to my senses and gaze out the window.

It's beautiful out there.  The gentle tapestry of soft color outside the window is soothing.  A deep silence, occasionally augmented by the twitter of a sparrow, washes over me.  In its embrace, it's easy to let the troublesome storylines dissolve.

The weather?  No big deal.  It simply is.
(READ MORE)
No Big Deal?

In contemporary American Buddhism, the notion of "no big deal" seems to be a big deal actually.  Pema Chodron has taught about it extensively, entitling a chapter in her landmark book, Start Where You Are, "No Big Deal."

I was introduced to this phrase in my first visit to The Farm* in the mid-1970's -- in a way that spun my head around.  Apparently, the Farm's Teacher, Stephen Gaskin, had picked up the term from Suzuki Roshi at the San Francisco Zen Center.  I was a beneficiary of that transmission.

That evening, as was common practice in the single men's dormitory tents, a group of us were "rapping" after a full day's work.  I had just poured my heart out, rambling on, at length, about the utter shambles that my life had become (my wife wanted a divorce, my career was in disarray, I was living in my van, etc.)  When I paused, at last, a clear-eyed young man softly replied, "no big deal."

"NO BIG DEAL!!?" 

"No big deal."

"NO BIG DEAL!!?" 

"No big deal."

I was confounded.  Mindblown.  That the excruciating drama of my life could be seen as "no big deal" stopped me cold.  At first, my stomach fell.  My angst and concerns "invalidated,"a bevy of emotions emerged.  I felt surprised, confused, frustrated, humiliated. 

Yet, then, the very next instant, something shifted.  

In the compassionate embrace of the attention I was being given by that small group of fellow travelers, a space opened.  In that space, I saw clearly that the extreme drama I was experiencing wasn't solid.  It wasn't real in any objective sense.  It was just a collection of thoughts and emotions, self-created.  

As that space opened, I saw that I actually had a choice.  Rather than rub salt in my own wounds, it was possible to take a step back -- and take my own thoughts and feelings with a grain of salt! The tears that then emerged were not only of grief, they were also of relief -- and gratitude.  In a few moments, the tears melted into a sense of deep peace.
 

And yet...

Live and Learn

Being a neophyte in the Practice, much of the time stumbling ahead without the support of a teacher or a sangha, it took me decades to get a better sense of what had happened that day.  Like all too many meditators here in the West, I came to believe that Spiritual Practice meant that I should strive to become fundamentally"unattached."  The ultimate goal, it seemed, was to transcend the "drama" of my life.  Since I'd done it in that instant back on the Farm, I knew what the deal was -- right?

Wrong.

Able to muster up a semblance of sustained calm through meditation, mistaking meditative quiescence for enlightened insight, I then managed to avoid, suppress, and repress a lot of emotion-backed conditioned patterns and deep set belief structures -- both on and off the meditation cushion.  Driven deeper underground, these patterns then rose up to explode into extreme states. Again and again.
It wasn't a pretty picture. 

As the Practice matured, I came to see that I hadn't really gotten it.  

My understanding of "no big deal," and its close cousin, "nothing special," were superficial.  These phrases had become intellectual bulwarks against my own deep feelings -- and the feelings of others.  Although the original insight was sound, and sometimes helpful, all too often I had used these terms as a shieldBehind that barrier, there was a vortex of un-examined pain, fear, and resentment resulting from a deep and unfulfilled childhood desire to be loved, to be acknowledged and appreciated as very special, a big deal.  (I still can still "wipe out" on this conditioning when I'm not paying attention.)

And it even gets more interesting.  

To wit:

After all these years, I still believe that I should be loved and appreciated and acknowledged as very special.  In fact, in my heart of hearts, I strongly believe that everyone on this planet (me included) should be loved and appreciated and acknowledged as Very Special.  We each are, after all, each and every one of us, nothing less than unique manifestations of Divine Being.  Whether it is called Buddhanature, or the Light, or the One Love -- or something else or nothing at all -- it's the Real Deal.  Getting my act together well enough to serve this Reality is my primary commitment in life.   

This is Very Special, a Very Big Deal to me!

Harvest on The Farm, circa 1975
Yet, with this very next breath, I can also say, in all honesty, this is also Nothing Special, No Big Deal.  

No kidding!

How can that be? 

Stay tuned.  

(to be continued...)

*The Farm is a community in Tennessee.  I spent a couple of months there in the mid-'70s.   At that point in time, it numbered about 1700 people and was seen as a Spiritual School with Stephan Gaskin as its Teacher.  Believing that interpersonal honesty enhanced an awareness of our fundamental telepathic connection to one another, many hours were spent in heart to heart communication, "working it out". 

Originally posted, February 21, 2014.  Updated and Revised.

3 comments:

Sam said...

I hear ya! Love this classroom earth.
Some of the lessons we have chosen to figure out, to improve our experience here, to grow in pure creative reality, can be weirdly hard at first sight and last for a long classroom time, or repeat until figured out. Yup! We are all special, all at different stations having different thoughts and different emotions over the same situation as our neighbor.
We have been so bombarded with meaningless behavioral influences, one must not only SEE and HEAR reality, but also remember it every single day.
When those feelings of experiencing lack there of in my life pop up, a quick gratitude mode will kick in and grow wild and wide spread. Just by looking down at my hand. Thankful to have one and how it moves almost as if it had a mind of it's own. Gratitude and love for all those at different stations learning different lessons finding their own way to the joy only found in self reality.
Nice composition, a fun read.

Don Karp said...

Yet another goodun'
Hurrah!

You mentioned "extreme states" but did not specify what they were. Can you please do this?

Lance Smith said...

Thanks for chiming in Sam and Don.

Sam, Yes. The connection to Gratitude for the experience of Being with all its wonders and wonderings, with all its "pleasant" and "unpleasant" lessons is quite a blessing. It can even become a daily practice with an effort to take some time to reflect on those elements of our life that evoke this feeling. (We close each Mindfulness Circle with a Sharing of Gratitude, then a shared OM -- or two or three or....LOL)

Don, I don't think that a comment here is the best platform for sharing the specifics of the extreme states that I alluded to. I have shared stories of my personal struggles in the Mindfulness Circles and in other settings including a couple of on-line communities when it appeared necessary and helpful to myself and others.

So, if you'd like, I would be glad to talk more about those states in personal communication with you, Brother. As I write this now, I'm also thinking that maybe I could devote an entire piece, (or collection of pieces), here or elsewhere, to "Mysticism and Madness" at some point. I think that a lot of us have allowed medical science, with its materialistic bias, to dominate the conversation. Thanks for a bit of a push. LOL Hope all is well there.
One Love,
Lance