Monday, February 22, 2010

Rejecting Winter-Rejecting Life

Was out with a good friend and her family yesterday, basking in the warm, February sun that was melting snow piles along the Mississippi River. That feeling of the coming spring was very evident, enough to make the messy, half frozen puddles and slush piles we stepped in almost enjoyable.

Winter in Minnesota is a long slog, so every moment that breaks through it's grip on us is a moment worth celebrating. But I got to thinking that the many ways in which we Minnesotans mostly reject the dark, harshly cold days of January for example, are similar to how humans choose to reject experiences and emotions they don't wish to experience.

I remember a story about Katagiri Roshi, during the early days of Hokyoji, a retreat center in southern Minnesota. He was doing zazen outside with a small group of students and it was cold, very cold. Someone asked Roshi how he was taking it, the cold I mean, and he responded something like "When it's cold, just be cold. When it's hot, just be hot." I can imagine this guy sitting in his robes with his teeth chattering as he said this. It's a pretty funny image if you ask me, and yet, it's a quality example of not adding on to one's experience.

Yesterday, one of the children with us said her feet were wet and cold. Accurate enough. And then someone said something about wishing the snow was gone, which is exactly what most of us do when faced with anything we don't want to face.

I walked into class this morning and did my best to face my least favorite student and say "good morning" to her, recently recognizing how much energy I had been wasting trying to avoid her in such situations. It's a lot of work trying skip out on your life, just as it's a lot of work to bitch about the weather. It requires energy and enough thought to come up with something that someone might respond to if you are with someone. Because you want a conversation, right? So, you have to say something kind of provocative. The weather is a bit unpleasant. probably won't spark much interest. But Man, this weather fucking sucks! probably will do the trick.

And yet, what good does getting into a long, drawn out bitchfest about how cold it is, or how much snow there is? Does it change anything? The same might be asked of a lot of complaining we do.

But maybe not all of it. Contrary to what this post might suggest, I believe it's possible for complaints to be a source a wisdom, and worthwhile pursuing in certain cases. In fact, one may stumble into a bitch session, become aware of it as such, and then use that as a pivot point to turn the conversation towards a more beneficial place.

You might say, why not drop the bitching all together, and part of me agrees. However, it strikes me that some circumstances call for slogging through slush piles for a bit before drying out under the sun. I can't think of a good example right now - maybe someone out there can give one - but it seems to me that the seeming purity and perfect clarity of Katagiri's comments that cold, winter day were what was appropriate to that moment. They're still teaching us, and yet clinging to them as the only way to act is rejecting anything that doesn't fit their expression.

Sometimes pure and clear. Sometimes dirty and sloppy. This is how it is while we are longing for something else.

1 comment:

LuLu said...

I'll attempt an example. Sometimes it helps to bitch about someone. I know it can very easily turn into gossip so you have to be very careful who you are bitching to. But sometimes it takes a good bitch-session to sort through exactly what it is about a person or situation that bugs you. Often times what comes out is that you are bitching about something you don't like about yourself and/or you also may talk out your feelings and arrive at a place where you can feel compassion for this other person. True?