What I'm doing at the moment on this personal web site, is posting past articles I've written, and associating them with a painting I've done in the last five years. My intention as I go forward is to eventually begin writing some new material that will integrate more fully my integration of Zen and creativity. This particular article was written as we were entering the housing crisis of 2009, but I think is still relevant as we face a new crisis at the beginning of 2018. I welcome comments or discussion.
"The blizzard of the worldhas crossed the threshold and it has overturned the order of the soul."
I suppose we could all agree by now that the housing crisis is not the only bubble that is being burst in our world. As major world views are crumbling all around us how do we keep our sanity in the midst of this chaos and confusion? I hear of more and more people feeling pressure and stress in their work place. People are being laid off and losing their jobs. How are we going to make it through these kinds of cataclysmic changes? How do we muster the courage to stand for core values and wholeness in a divided world?
It's easy to be divided. We humans are very adept at compartmentalizing parts of ourselves. We may view ourselves as highly religious and moral but in another area of our life, act in ways that are completely without integrity. We deepen the deception when we imagine this is of no consequence to others. When we are divided, we will suffer, and those around us will suffer too. We can not live divided lives and have integrity at the same time. Rumi says, "If you are here unfaithfully with us, you're causing terrible damage." If we are living a lie, those around us will fee less safe and sane.
If the litany of stories coming out from the news of Wall Street are any indication, the level of greed and corruption took place on a shockingly grand scale. To make matters worse, we justify this with the thought that this is just the way it is. Where would we be if the Mandalas and Martin Luther Kings of this world had thought like that? It takes courage to stand for something in a world that often rewards being divided. How do we retrieve this wholeness in a world that is glutted with too much information and media that constantly mine our attention? Our education system values objective knowledge but what about wisdom? Our world is up-side-down. It has it all backwards. We are called upon to open our hearts and surrender by participating in a larger wholeness.
Zen practice returns us to what is elemental. We do "work practice" which always involves simple manual labor. Work does not need to be stressful or busy. It can be ordinary and dignified in it's simplicity. When we slow down, and attend to one thing at a time, such activity is very healing and restful. The antidote to stress in our cerebral world might well be doing something simple with our hands: weeding a garden, washing dishes, sweeping, dusting, or cleaning.
As I write this I am listening to some simple hymns played by Butch Baldassari. Butch passed away from cancer in early 2009, but he left behind a legacy of beautiful, simple and timeless music. When the world seems too complicated for me, I often find solace in this simple music. Wholeness is always close at hand. We have only to stop, and smell the flowers or feel the grass under our feet.
Being whole does not mean being perfect. In our Zen tradition, we study precepts as guides and reminders to wholeness. They are not a rigid set of moralistic rules. And we all break them. The Sangha is a community which is able to witness our commitment and intention to keep these precepts in a public jukai ceremony where we receive a lay-robe called a rakusu. On the back of this rakusu we embroider a broken pine branch in green threat. This broken branch represents our wholeness which can only come about by being completely broken open. The Poles have a saying that "the only whole heart is a broken heart."
Because it is difficult to remain whole in a divided world, we need trustworthy, reliable, tenacious friends, which we can find in a Sangha community. One of our conceits is to imagine we can be whole by ourselves. We need to be in relationship to others. We need community.
When we stand for something by remaining whole, we stand for everyone and everything. When we heal our heart, we heal everyone's. Our confidence is catching, and will spread to those around us, supporting their wholeness and broadening and deepening our circle of gratitude and appreciation.
© 2009, Roshi Robert Althouse