An email note earlier this week informed me that a man and his wife wanted to come to the zendo on Sunday. They had read books about Zen, the note said, and now they were interested in actually practicing the practice.
I'm not sure why, but I always have a soft spot for those who step across -- or even consider stepping across -- some imaginary line between intellectual consumption and finding the wherewithal to act. On the face of it, it's the next logical step. But putting out the energy to act seems vastly different. It is like a horse galloping at full tilt when suddenly the reins are pulled tight.
Acting requires us all to slow down or even stop dead in our tracks. We have to go back to the very beginning, to review every shred of experience in this life. It's not much different from learning anything new: There has to be a willingness to practice bit by bit something about which we know nothing despite all the intellectual touchstones that may have been gathered. Somehow, it takes real balls, real courage ... it's so vast when we consent to begin. Every ounce of patience and courage is required because the zippy intellect knows everything ... and yet, for the moment, we know nothing.
Every blind date, every job application, every moment of growing up, every aspect of everything -- it all comes into play. It's huge ... and yet here we sit, learning to cross the legs, straighten the spine, breathe attentively, shut up, and focus the mind. How can this activity have anything to do with the vast reaches of prior experience, prior emotion, prior thought? Really, it would be so much more comfortable and perhaps comforting to be a believer or a philosopher or something: "Enlightenment," "compassion," "emptiness," "peace," "living in the present moment" -- it really is easier to say these things and find others who will agree and we can all sit around telling each other pleasant fairy tales.
But then something, some common-sensical intent mutters, "oh really?" or "bullshit!" and the house of cards is threatened. And ... well ... it's as scary as it is challenging and refreshing.
I guess I will never figure it out -- how it is that someone becomes willing to take that step. I guess I'll just have to be content with my soft spot for people who do.