This slogan focuses on two major obstacles to realization: ego-clinging and disturbing emotions. If we are to live a life based in spiritual values, it is important to take a close look into these two patterns. In fact, it is so important that you may need to actually bring them to the surface so that you can examine them in detail.
The usual idea of meditation and Zen practice is to calm down, relax and have a little break from self-obsession and disturbing emotions. But according to slogan 55, unless we are willing to scrutinize our deep-rooted emotional undercurrents and long-standing fixation on ourselves, our so-called calmness and relaxation will be superficial and can be turned into chaos and tension with changes in external conditions that come about through loss: loss of health, loss of a loved one, loss of material security.
The tendency to pretend everything is okay, while avoiding unpleasant realities, shows itself both in conflicts that arise in external social relationships and in inner conflict. In order to feel good, we often tell ourselves that everything is OK when it isn’t. But to train our heart/mind we need to stop pretending completely. We need to drop the solace we find in religious beliefs and material comfort. Zen training is not about putting on a show or keeping up appearances. It’s about bringing all aspects of the human experience to the surface, even those that provoke us the most.
In working with this slogan, we deliberately and systematically bring to mind the kinds of situations that make us crazy and that trigger a defensive reaction. We drop denial. In other words, through the power of our minds, we push our own buttons, and then see what happens. Often, just thinking about such things is enough to create a whoosh of simultaneous emotional upheaval and a re-solidified focus on the self. But only when harmful tendencies have entered conscious awareness can we take the necessary steps to take responsibility for them and eliminate them completely.
Deception of others is always rooted in deception of self. Destructive patterns thrive on being hidden, not only from others, but from ourselves. That is what allows them to maintain their power over our thoughts, our speech and our actions. But if we are brave enough to arouse the powerful forces that are deeply ingrained in our brain we can confront and examine them, we can begin to free ourselves from their control. Ironically, in order to develop true peace, we need to be willing to rile things up.
Suggested practice: Bring to mind something that gets a rise out of you. Notice the heightening of emotionality and the strengthening of a frozen and solid self-regard. Try to stay with that experience and examine it in depth, as a mental, bodily and emotional sensation. In doing so, remember that Zen practice is gentle, so don’t begin with your most challenging and deep-rooted habit patterns, but with something more ordinary.
This column is a long series of short essays exploring the meaning of the Lojong Slogans. It is inspired by the work of Judy Lief.
Kuya Minogue is the resident teacher at Creston’s ZenWords Zen Centre. For more information, she can be reached at 250-428-3390.