Saturday, February 27, 2010

dancing among heroes

Anyone who has decided to take a spiritual endeavor seriously knows the feeling ... that sense of being in one of those action-adventure movies where the hero is trapped in a room where ceiling, walls and floor are all moving inward, tighter and tighter, more and more threatening ... a room with no doors.

It may be that someone entered the spiritual adventure with high hopes of salvation and relief and untold treasures yet to be found, but as serious effort picks up steam, well, it'll wipe the smile off the optimist's face. There are no choirs of angels or books or beliefs that can free you from this noose. There is no last-minute reprieve.

Narrow, narrow, narrow is the way. Inescapably narrow and pressing. It is a time when the smallest mote of dust can become unbearably heavy and create a razor-wire hell.

And often such a recognition, such a face-to-face and in-your-face reality, is enough to make anyone retreat off and return to a cushioned pew of safety and belief and pleasant songs. Where what had offered to open the heart wide instead clamps down and squeezes, where a beckoning salvation evolves into constricting damnation ... well, you can see why the cushioned pew is all the rage.

Only the most courageous and patient live to tell the hero's tale. Others find themselves relegated to the role of singing the praises of heroes they know nothing about.

And how is it that the heroes live to tell the tale? How is it that they can beckon and point with open hearts to a wider realm? Why are they dancing? How do they do that?

There is only one way to answer such questions: Try it and find out.


  1. Agreed. I have found "Narrow, narrow, narrow is the way. " to be true. I hear there's an expanse in there somewhere where or when I stop believing in the thing I call me.

  2. Adam,

    When I read this post I winced. There are many, many ways to describe 'the path' or 'the way' or 'zen practice" and of course "narrow" has its advantages. But my wincing had to do with my medical background and thinking that your descrition sounded alot like the process of heart disease and its eventual outcome.

    I don't know if you will see this post as I have thought for some time about whether or not to post it. One other time I heard a zen teacher describe the path exactly as you have and that teacher did in fact several years later have a heart attack. So what are we doing when describe 'the way things are"? Could it be that we are just describing ourselves projected onto 'the world'? One of my Tibetans teachers tell his students that all of our descriptions are just projections. "Outer" being no different from "Inner" and vice-versa.

    One final note: the word 'stenosis" comes from the Greek, meaning "narrow."

    Take care of your health, Adam. And remember that we can always change our mind/body perceptions.

    And if you think I'm full of sh*t, so be it. Just sharing what I saw as an early warning system.

  3. Dear DharmaEars -- Thanks for taking the time to read and offer a caring response.

    As to your medical concerns, the fact is I have had heart issues (to use a word that those too feeble-minded to say "problem" do). Those problems seem to be under control, but at my age, who knows what bit of anatomy will betray you next? :)

    As to the narrowed way referred to, I did not mean to imply that there was something good or even necessarily about it. I was trying to describe what I think happens in Zen (or any other serious spiritual) practice. As the line went in "The Godfather," "It's not personal. It's just business." Narrow-narrow-narrow is just what happens when the student digs deeper and deeper, becomes more and more willing to consent. You can find this experience described in lots of observations that are hundreds and perhaps thousands, of years old. It's just what happens and so, perhaps, my description was just inept: I thought I was describing something as common as shoelaces ... if perhaps a lot more compelling. Projections are certainly true, but there are also things that are not simply your projections or mine: Tea tastes like tea; you drink some and I drink some and we both know what it tastes like. Are we projecting or are we simply drinking tea?

    I don't think you are full of shit at all. But I wish I had been clearer or more careful with my descriptions. There is nothing elevated about the narrowness of the way that any student might encounter. It is not something to strive for or emulate or crave or feel lost without ... it's just something that I think happens. I would be quite surprised if Tibetan Buddhists or Zen Buddhists or Christians or Jews or Muslims or Hindus didn't experience a similar narrowing as their practice progressed. Tea, after all, just tastes like tea. But of course that is just my projection.

    Take good care.


  4. Adam,

    When you or I or we drink tea, we just drink tea. But when you begin to 'describe' drinking tea...then you or I may or may not describe it the same way. And those descriptions are the way we are experiencing....what? Just the tea?

    When you describe something, anything, are you ever able to separate what is being experienced from the the one doing the experiencing? We may say we are describing the tea but what I'm suggesting is that all of our descriptions are reflections of who is doing the describing. That's what I mean by projection. Description is, by its very nature, projection. It's different than. fopr instance, the direct experience of the tea. Or the direct experience of anything.

    I am aware that 'the way' has been decribed as you suggest for a long time. But I would not, for instance, describe my own experience of going deeper and deeper as 'narrower and narrower'. I would describe it as seeing myself more and more clearly, as in a mirror, without pre-conceptions of what I'm seeing. Direct seeing. It's not narrow or broad or elevated or whatever. It just is. My experience is not the same as my description of that experience. As soon as I start to describe something, I've left the experience and have begun the projection of that experience.

    But of course as soon as you open your mouth, you're off the mark. So, you know......alot of blaoney being tossed around. Just take care of yourself.

  5. Hi DharmaEars -- Wider and wider or narrower or narrower, the mirror presides with its preconditions.

    As you say, a lot of baloney.

    As you say, just take care of yourself.