Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Zen of Personal Narratives

As part of an e-mail to an old co-worker this morning, who was asking me how my life is now, I wrote the following:

The hard part for me lately is the feeling that I will always be one step short from achieving my career goals, having a healthy, long term relationship in my life, and living my spiritual path fully. This is probably just a story that I'm trapped in, but it's had a grip on me for awhile, and I also know that I hold myself back too much at times out of fear.

This narrative is actually an old one, but when you have a lot of free time on your hands, and no clear direction, the old narratives can get really loud.

What I find interesting about this particular story is how it points directly to the way grasping at something doesn't work, and how it is, in that way, completely true. I can't really "have" any of the things on the list. The fulfilling career. The great relationship. The unfolding path of wisdom and awakening. They aren't graspable in the way I want them to be.

I've been considering desire lately. The desire to awaken for example. I think we get a little too black and white about desire, deeming it all trouble, all the time. It isn't. There has to some desire to awaken, or to have healthy relationships, or to do something more than the same job over and over, otherwise there's no movement. But at some point, the desire has to be let go of, to flower or disperse on it's own as it will - or else everything gets really warped.

What I see in the narrative I have cherished above is that everything I have sought - the continued career achievements, the loving relationship, the unfolding wisdom - has been something "out there," outside of me, that I feel I have to possess in order to be complete.

I'd still love to experience all of this, but it needs to be approached differently - I can see this, feel this, now. The desire energy, the wanting - it's time to respect it more, engage it differently, and to see it as another raft that, if ridden intelligently, will take me across the river.

*Image by Harry Northover
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Petteri Sulonen said...

Lofty desires, those. I just want another camera. :-p

(Best wishes—it sounds like you're most emphatically not letting a good crisis go to waste. I don't have much to say to these ruminations of yours, but I am reading them, and am thinking good thoughts in your general direction. Time for some zazen, methinks. Hell, I might as well dedicate the merit from that practice to you—I hear you're allowed to do that. Yes, I'm serious.)

Nathan said...

Thanks much Petteri. I'm off to class at the zen center in a few hours. Zazen is on the agenda :)

Was Once said...

Life is like this, awareness is key. Everything is not always buttoned up, and I know this feeling quite well. Just look at what is your practice.

bookbird said...

wow - great post. And I love the phrase "take me across the river".
I respect and admire your courage! Hope you travel well.

Chana said...

Two words...."conditioned existence"...I mean what are you gonna do? The things you mentioned have been conditioned into you. Like everyone of us, we have the same experience with our conditioned existence. But there is a difference. Some of us are practicing being awake. So now you become awake and aware of your conditioned existence. Once this happens it begins to fall away, unless one wants to feed it. Which is quite ignorant because it only leads to more suffering for ourselves and those near us.
Being approved by others is a big part of keeping these inner dialogues going too. WE get caught up in what other people might think of us. So we join the crowd, either in the ignorant pursuits or the way out of them, which neither really works. We have to find our own mind free of these intrusions. Having no excuses as to why and how and when they arise. Just stop doing them. Grow up, and take responsibility for your self. These are messages to give your self when the self-pity games take over.

Nathan said...

Hi All,

Thanks for the comments. Despite the challenges I've been speaking about lately, life seems to be pretty decent right now. Not easy, but I'm not miserable. We just started the fall practice period at zen center, and a new class last night on the Anapanasati Sutta. So, things are cooking.


Barry said...

I also hope that you soon can achieve your career goals, have a healthy, long term relationship, and live you spiritual path fully.

These are not separate goals, of course, and in my experience the first two provide a remarkable context for the flourishing of the third.

Nathan said...

Thanks much Barry.

peter daishin said...

dear nathan, your post touched my heart. both grasping and desiring are part of the human condition; no wonder buddhist teachings address them repeatedy.

i've found that welcoming both (and other nasties) is the starting point to a befriending, a softening -- even if i have done so a hundred times. chances are, they're not done teaching me.

with a bow, daishin