Standing at the edge and looking into the abyss is frightening. The body is surged with fear in hopes to motivate a retreat. Why is this? What is it hiding, and where is this fear coming from? Normally I would tighten up and hold on for dear life, but this time was different. I was ready to discover the unknown.
Zen requires us to look deeply into the reality of the present moment. Though it may not always be easy, we must learn to open and accept the present moment for what it truly is. In fact sometimes it can be down right scary. But fear is just one of the defense mechanisms we can face when attempting to be present. We can experience hatred, or doubt, or lust, or even laziness. If we look at the many threats we encounter as humans, as animals, then these emotions all seem necessary. But in zazen, the practice of being present, we see them as hindrances. The closer we look, we begin to see they are moving us away from feeling something. Something we may have been avoiding for awhile now.
In the Open Mind Zen School, one of the methods used to bring us to the present is Zen Dialogue. Zen dialogue is a process of becoming more conscious of the various aspects of the self. In this process we give the different aspects names and voices and one of the voices we dialogue with is the controlling ego. We name the ego as the controller because that's exactly what it wants to do. Though not everyone would want to admit this. The ego would love to have complete control and until we realize this, we have no hope in letting go. See, the ego's controlling nature only really works if it remains a secret. Once the ego awakens to the reality of it not being in control it can then begin to break free of its controlling tendencies. I recently discovered that my tendency to blame was an attempt to shift responsibility. And this was simply because I did not want to experience these certain emotions that were flowing through me at the time. The story of blame and responsibility was just a cover up, a distraction if you will, of something much deeper. This emotion was something I have been hiding for awhile now. So at some time my controller formed. It formed because I felt out of control, and at that time I could not deal with that feeling. The controller was developed in secret and this zen dialogue has given it a chance to tell its story and in doing so, giving my controller the chance to let go.
While I was doing zazen during our retreat at the Osage Forest of Peace this past weekend, I noticed the tendency of tensing up. This would cause a lot of pain after awhile. After some time, watching this pain arise and fade, I began to see that there were times when there was no tension at all. But once I realized this space and flow of energy, I would automatically tighten up. I also noticed a contracting in my chest just before this tension. So I began to work on opening my chest and soon it started to feel as if I was choosing the pain and tension. Along with this space for choice also came a feeling of uncertainty and vulnerability. But the more I moved into the pain it began to change and evaporate. Still this took a great deal of effort. The tightening in my chest was being conditioned by something that was not yet within my awarness.
During retreats with Sensei there is always some time set in the schedule for some alternative methods of practice. On Saturday we had in the schedule some Zen Breathwork. Breathwork is a powerful sustained breathing technique which helps the practitioner experience how energy flows through the body/mind. While I was breathing I noticed the tightness in my chest again. It was restricting my breathing so I decided to put more effort in to the exercise. I would breath harder and deeper. As deep as I could. I began to notice a strong vibration in my body accompanied with heat. Then I started to have these memories of childhood in the form of pictures. Nothing in particular about the memories other than they were of my childhood. The vibration and heat increased. Then I broke into a spontaneous full body cry. I cried like a baby. I can't remember the last time I cried like that. I remember having this sense of freedom, an awareness accompanying the cry. Then with the cue of Sensei I was able to release and relax. I relaxed deeply and my chest was then open and expansive.
With all this I realized that the controlling nature of the ego was an attempt to soften the edge of the reality that control is not possible. A feeling of vulnerability that goes back to infancy. A feeling that I wanted to forget. Something Zen has asked me to remember and merge with. To merge with it so deeply that there is no resistance. When there is no need to control life, there is simply just life and all its wonders. Life is free, so join it. This is how we find freedom.