A pretty greeting card I found had a quote by Helen Keller: "The best way out is through." Helen Keller knew that well, having been deprived of both sight and hearing. This is the "no holds barred" method of dealing with what feels like obstacles in our life.
Zazen meditation is central to Soto Zen Buddhism. Often it is begun for reasons of personal comfort rather than for seeing who we really are. If there is preschool, elementary school, high school, etc., in our ordinary life, it is no less so for our inner life. Self-improvement can be a beginning approach to meditation. But what is the full spiritual picture of meditation?
In the beginning, we go after personal satisfaction to get calm and relaxed. Persevering, we become less preoccupied with our own condition and we notice the impact we have on others through our actions. We begin to go against the grain of old habits.
A Zen master teaching in Japan made an ink painting of Zen monks sitting in zazen, facing the wall. His words translate: "You cannot see yourself from the back, but it is that self that you cannot see that is who you really are." Later still, deepening zazen practice takes us far beyond self-centered ideas. It is possible to experience deep acceptance, to surrender to life as it is.
It is a paradox that we encounter so much internal noise
when we first try to sit in silence.
It is a paradox that experiencing pain releases pain.
It is a paradox that keeping still can lead us
so fully into life and being.
Our minds do not like paradoxes. We want things
to be clear, so we can maintain our illusions of safety.
Certainty breeds tremendous smugness.
We each possess a deeper level of being, however,
which loves paradox. It knows that summer is already
growing like a seed in the depth of winter. It knows
that the moment we are born, we begin to die. It knows
that all of life shimmers, in shades of becoming,
that shadow and light are always together,
the visible mingled with the invisible.
Gunilla Norris, Sharing Silence
It is from this understanding born of the depths from stillness in meditation that the deepest spiritual element can come forth, and it is possible to say, as a teacher at Great Vow Monastery in Oregon has written in a tribute to the Zen master, Harada
I vow to affirm what is:
If there is cost, I choose to pay,
If there is need, I choose to give,
If there is pain, I choose to feel,
If there is sorrow, I choose to grieve,
When burning, I choose heat,
When calm, I choose peace,
When starving, I choose hunger,
When happy, I choose joy,
What I encounter, I choose to meet,
What I shoulder, I choose to bear,
When it's my birth, I choose to live.
When it's my death, I choose to die.
Where this takes me, I choose to go,
Being with what is, I respond to what is.
Zen Master Dogen taught that zazen meditation leads to "no barrier between Self and Other." However much we meander on the journey, the way out is the way through.
- Bennage is abbess of Mt. Equity Zendo in Pennsdale