Thursday, January 6, 2011

shame, for those who care

The word "shame" is a real bell-ringer in the society I live in. On hearing the word, people can squirm and fidget and explain until they are blue in the face in an attempt to elude the lash. But I think it is a good word for anyone who is attempting a spiritual adventure. An old Zen teacher (whose words but not name I recall) said: "In order to do this practice, you must feel shame."

Here is a dictionary definition of "shame:"

a : a painful emotion caused by consciousness of guilt, shortcoming, or impropriety b : the susceptibility to such emotion shame?>
: a condition of humiliating disgrace or disrepute : ignominy shame of being arrested>
a : something that brings censure or reproach; also : something to be regretted : pity shame you can't go> b : a cause of feeling shame

As a guess, I would say that there are two extremes when addressing a sense of shame: 1. to find and express as much exculpatory evidence as possible and BURY that sucker; 2. to wallow and bask in the sense of wrong-doing without ever seeking a way out. Neither is very useful ... not to mention the fact that they don't work.

I think that what inspired the old-timer to suggest that "in order to do this practice, you must feel shame" is the useful openings that shame can provide.  First, there is the need to address the sense of shame with open arms. Look at it ... and then investigate it. Second, correct what can be corrected and vow not to repeat the behavior that inspired the pain in the first place. Third, go forward with a keen and aware recollection of the potential to exercise shameful behavior.

In Zen, a practice that encourages a bold silence, silence is not really enough. A lot of zennies may comfort themselves with the mantram of "noble silence," or "skillful means," but this is just an exercise in burying the sucker. It is shameful without acknowledging the shame and without expending the effort at reform. Zen isn't about being comfortable ... or uncomfortable either, come to that. If nothing else, Zen is about being honest.

Are we perfect in our efforts? Probably not. That's why Zen is a practice.

But we can make the effort.

End of rant.

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