Saturday, January 22, 2011

Standing Against Isn't Going Far Enough

Carole, over at ZenDotStudio, offered the following towards the end of her current post:

So if we pursue a spiritual path it is as RM Jiyu Kennet said, "we are standing against the world," that is against the conventional outward looking nature of modern human life.

I agree and disagree. When I look at who I am in the world, what I value and how my life "looks," it's absolutely the case that it doesn't go along with the conventional way of living and valuing. I'm not a corporate ladder climber or a somewhat discontented office worker. I don't give a damn about the latest American Idol contest, the newest online video game, or what's in fashion. I'm not motivated by white picket fences, two car garages, and the various lush comforts that our society offers. I often learn about fads after they have started waning or have been replaced by something else. I'm dedicated to a spiritual path, and am driven by social/political values many deem to be idealistic, and even traitorous. In all of this, I would agree with what Carole and Kennet are saying.

However, what interests me is the "standing against" portion of the comment. It's a stance, view, feeling that I know all too well. I have lived it, loved it, hated it, and fear it - that standing against. It can be a deeply lonely landscape to live in, one that offers fingertips into authenticity, but which lacks a connection to the wellspring of divine support we all have access to.

The problem with maintaining a way of being that is standing against is that it's a form of separation, a method of remaining trapped in a dualism. The modern world, with all of it's speed, greed, violence, and madness, is something we want to break away from, take refuge from, disassociate from. In the mind that stands against, the modern world is considered solely a source of poison in need of an antidote. A place of destruction in need of rebuilding. A source of demons to be feared, and from which we must develop a series of elaborate protections (often spiritual practices) to keep us from being swallowed hole.

Standing against is a hallmark of counter-cultural movements. As a social activist, I have stood against all kinds of forms of oppression, against war, against environmental destruction. As a Zen and yoga practitioner, I have stood against mindlessness, greed, hatred, corruption and power abuses, and endless amounts of ignorance. In all of this, I have discovered again and again, that just standing against isn't a full turning of the dharma wheel. It's a half revolution that leaves you exhausted, frustrated, and often isolated (individually or within a small group).

These days I am finding that what I am called to be in this world, to do in this world, is to be able to similtaneously embrace the current conditions in the world, and also to envision a more just and joyous future world, and act in ways that might aid bringing that about. To work to break down war, oppression, and environmental destruction without clinging to any particular outcome. To meet people and places where they are at, as best as I can. And to be confident enough, and vulnerable enough, to stand upright in who I am, and not to stand against what I fear becoming.

We can take a cue from the yoga pose Tadasana, or mountain pose. Standing tall, firmly, but at ease, being in mountain pose looks like doing nothing, but it's far from that. I like to practice this and other poses outside, precisely because they offer great lessons in exposure, in being out of control of your environment (as opposed the regulation available in a yoga studio or in your home).

You embody the pose, embody your life just as it is, and let come what will. And what comes is the rest of the world. The wind. The rain. The snow. The clouds. The beating sun. Ants. Squirrels. Fallen leaves. Blades of grass. Cats. Voices. People Gawking. Car engines backfiring. Gun shots. Yelling. Birds sqawking. Memories of being a child. Crying. The heart beating. Visions of the future. The air moving in and out of your lungs.

You can't stand against anything in Mountain pose. If you try, you'll get exausted, even though it looks like you're just standing there.

Life is just like this. Can you take it all in as it is, and also manifest peace, justice and joy? They need not be opposed.

#Photo is from Bush Yoga, which might offer a good laugh or two from the political peanut gallery.


Algernon said...

Very nice teaching on this subject. "Standing against" has the pitfall of creating a lonely, heroic "I" that is itself a problem.

Embracing current conditions is how we begin to take responsibility: acknowledging what is. Sometimes the activist urge is to proceed from this step by saying, "How can I change this to make it more like [my idea of what would be fair]?" Another way to proceed might be to say, "This is how it is. How can I help?" What might appear could be action, could be some beneficial speech, or butting out, or a number of things.

Joseph said...

This brought me back to a passage from Zen Master Song Chol...

Buddhism is seeing the world upside-down. Although many people harm others in their quest to build a self-centered existence, Buddhism is the opposite: It’s the process of eliminating the concept of a separate self, and living with others. To conventional society, that’s seeing the world upside-down.

-Zen Master Song Chol