July 30, 2012

Living Out Our Questions.

“I would like to beg you, dear sir, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be give to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, some day far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”

~ Rainer Maria Rilke’s advice to youth

Inhabiting the moment implies a certain degree of openness toward what comes into our lives.

The lost job, a new partner, a distant rain cloud, or the sudden change of lighting on an unfurling orchid, happens with or without our consent. They are the very gifts within the changing tides of life, and it is up to us how we choose to receive them—with an open mind, or a cluttered one.

Photo: Jonay CP

Within all these shifting circumstances arrive myriad questions and doubts stemming from our own minds: “What will happen? How will I do? Is this right? What is my plan and how should I respond?” 

We buy into our worries and soon they consume us, immediately plucking us from the moments we are so intimately a part of.

Our questions can make us feel uncomfortable and guarded, and so they become negatively charged obstacles, which we believe must be overcome, denied or suppressed.

And yet, the questions themselves may offer us something: an opportunity for a profound realization or a chance to open our hearts and minds to inner growth. What was once so painful and gut wrenchingly stressful might hold the key to a sudden and deep understanding.

The practice: Sit with the questions in your life and allow them to be. Greet them with a still mind and see what happens…

Moment to moment, breezes and internal soliloquies pass through our minds and we receive them depending on our mood or level of distraction.

Photo: Millicent_bystander

If the very flow of life were water rushing through our being, then it might make sense to embody a way of living that allows the water to flow through unimpeded.

Also, if life or in this case water, were to encompass all moments or instances, then its entire chemical composition would include the good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly, the delicious and the disgusting.

While it may be easier to allow the good to come and to pass through, this chapter focuses on the discomfort of our questions—the things that consume us, and that drive us to react and respond in ways that hinder the natural flow of life streaming through the body.

For it is within our inability to accept and love the questions that leads to an internal conflict, removing us from the intimacy of the present moment. As we sit with the questions in our lives we begin to experience and understand that it is within our deepest and darkest doubts that the possibility for the greatest deepening and growth lies.

 “We do not learn by experience, but by our capacity for experience.” ~ Buddha

Learning to greet and accept the totality of our experiences with an open and present state of mind is Buddhism.

It is a strange contemplation at first—the silent and still examination of our deepest questions and problems leads to growth.

When I sat with the questions in my life, I noticed how fidgety and uncomfortable I was.

My mind could not sit still. It wanted to writhe and revolt—to think of explanations and create imaginary scenarios in which I either succeeded or failed. It didn’t matter if my thoughts imagined a positive or negative outcome, either way I was completely removed from the present moment and thus reality.

Sometimes I couldn’t handle it, and I would get up and move or I would try to control the rampant thoughts, either through suppressing or the cultivation of some other daydream. But when I was finally able to focus on my breath and let my thoughts be—just watching the thoughts and smiling at their rushing movement—I noticed that everything calmed down.

And here I was, sitting with my questions and smiling at my own illusory thoughts, not having a clue about anything other than the sound waves from the space heater lapping against my back. I noticed how everything became more alive and vibrant: the orchid sitting majestically on the table was perfect just as it was. The distant sound of crows was there, too.

This shift in my mind didn’t come from a plan or a group of thoughts, it came from a place within that was already present, waiting to be unveiled when I was ready to experience it.

I also noticed that the practice of learning to sit with my questions and allowing them to be required a certain degree of openness that wasn’t part of my logical mind. It took time to learn to be still and to acknowledge the fact that there really was a constant narrative running just above my brow.

Photo: Alex Bellink

And the deepest understanding of this rushing mind didn’t come from noticing it when I was walking around—though that is the bulwark of mindful practice—it came when I was falling prey to thoughts of fear or being cut off, and the ensuing feelings of anger, selfishness, or grief in which I became engulfed. Listening to the narrative in those moments and witnessing my ‘checked-out-ness,’ I realized that my greatest growth would come from sitting openly with the questions in my life.

Resting on the couch, jumping in and out of my thoughts —diving into a feeling of desperation running rampantly through my mind, and then coming back to this moment to see the wind and fog filtering through the trees, made for an extraordinary juxtaposition of self-made fantasy and unfettered reality.

It became evident that a life following my thoughts and whims was out of touch and a waste of the precious time I was given to experience this life.

And out of this understanding, came a real closeness with what I was experiencing and thus what was before me. Being here right now, made the candle glow brilliant and the accumulated dust flakes on the windowsill, part of the gift of the moment.

There is a real intimacy that can be felt when we decide to allow life to be as it is.

Objects of the earth and of the mind come to meet us and it is up to us how we deal with them.

Our most pressing issues, our questions, hold the greatest weight because they affect us the most. They are the foundation of the mental homes we build and inhabit and that our small minds rely on for support and shelter.

I noticed too, that I was who I thought I was because I feared certain things.

I allowed my mind to create an ego that I could occupy and that kept me safe from the universe and the vastness of the present; running into caves, castles, and shelters because I feared something didn’t seem like a Buddha-move.

Being with the questions and staring into the moment, without running for an ideological shelter or a judgmental fortress, seemed like a more interesting direction to go.

I like to picture a John Muir figure riding out powerful mountain storms in a Sequoia tree laughing at the force of the wind, arms open in awe of the universe.

Questions lead to more questions; thoughts to more thoughts, and reactions to more reactions. Cycles within cycles that can run our lives if we do not learn to pay attention and inhabit the naturalness of the moment.

When I experienced this, the seemingly draconian Zen line, “Why don’t you cut off your own head,” had a new, humorous lighting to it. A swift cut with the sword of mindfulness and the world appeared clear and translucent, surrounding me, yet emanating from the tips of my fingers. Creating space between our small minds’ reaction to the world allows us to walk gingerly, at first, with the questions instead of running away or building sturdier internal walls. This move opens paths to a deeper connection with the world and to the inherent wisdom within that stems from an unknown and infinite source.



Don Dianda is the author of See for your Self: Zen Mindfulness for the Next Generation. Through meditation, daily mindfulness practice, and individual koan work, Dianda seeks to shed light on the inherently deep connection one can have with the experience of this life as well as the world one moves through. Stepping into the now and recognizing the movements within the mind is where the path begins…Redwoodzen.blogspot.com


Editor: April Dawn Ricchuito

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