Tuesday, June 26, 2012

follow the leader ... the kinhin effect

In Zen Buddhism, there is the pretty straightforward practice of kinhin or walking meditation. The majority of time spent in formal practice is spent sitting straight and silent and often cross-legged, mind focused. It's called zazen. But then a bell rings and participants stand up and go for a (hopefully) mindful walk, one behind the other, always roughly in a circle ... which is to say that when the walk is over, they have returned to the point from which they started ... at which point it's time to sit down, sit straight, focus the mind ... again.

Anyone who has tried such a practice has felt the relief that comes with standing up after a period of sitting down. Aside from anything else, the knees or ankles or hips or back can be screaming for a change, something that will ease the pain. And that's not to mention the mind, which may be likewise anguished or delighted in one way or another. Thank God for kinhin!!!!!!! Thank God for a change of pace!!!!!!

But of course escape is not the only aspect of kinhin ... there are myriad others as well. Like any other so-called spiritual practice, I imagine, each stylized and ritualized activity has a way of reaching out and infusing the rest of any student's life, the stuff that is somehow not spiritual or straight or focused. What was stylized and ritualized dribbles and drips into ... your life and mine ... and that is what is meant to happen: What was special and 'spiritual' ... well, what the hell did you expect: It's your life and your choice ... of course it's going to have myriad meanings and applications and importance. Little picture becomes bigger picture, bigger picture becomes little picture ... what was once wow and special becomes ho-hum and ordinary and vice versa. It's what keeps life interesting and no one wants to be bored. Sometimes I think spiritual life is nothing more than an exercise in boredom control.

Anyway, in kinhin, there is a leader, someone to ring the bell signaling a bit of kinhin, someone to lead the line in whatever circle is chosen ... around and around, mindfully ... until it is time to stop and resume zazen or seated meditation. In kinhin, each student walks behind the student in front of him and in front of the student behind her. Up in 'front,' the leader leads the charge, stage manages the whole thing. The whole exercise is quite relaxing ... following along with no real responsibilities other than not bumping into the person just ahead.

Around and around and around things go. The leader leads. The followers follow ... around and around and around. And one of the things no one can help but notice when walking in a collective circle is that they themselves are the leader. It's nothing sexy. It's just the boring old truth. The one who is 'leading' would be meaningless without the followers and the ones who follow would be meaningless without the leader ... and the whole meaningful/meaningless schtick is really off base. Of course you're the leader. Of course you're the follower. Me too. And ...

So what? Kinhin is just kinhin. Kinhin is just walking. Walking is just walking. Leading is just leading. Following is just following. And ... so what? Isn't it just walking? And doesn't this inform a whole life -- any life?

These observations are mildly interesting as an attempt to equalize all men and all women: There are no leaders and there are no followers. Activists salivate and raise their flags. But it is as a function of mind that they take on a rich resonance.

What was I doing creating leaders and followers in the first place? Around and around and around from moment to moment. Leader moment, follower moment ... the moment doesn't mind. The moment is just the moment. Walking is just walking. Around and around is just around and around. Straight ahead is straight ahead. Relief is just relief. Wisdom is just wisdom. Delusion is just delusion.

And so, in doing a little kinhin, in following the leader or being one, the activity leads back inevitably to what I was doing in the first place ... just walking. Just walking ... minus leader or follower, importance or lack of importance, spiritual life or deluded one. And this 'minus' makes life easier, lighter, less pyrotechnical, less freighted.

You could almost say it's boring.

But it's not.

Myth has it that when Gautama Buddha was born, he took seven steps in each of the four cardinal directions and then, raising his right hand to heaven and pointing his left hand to the earth, said, "Above the heavens and below the earth, I alone am the world-honored one."

Now either he was the most egotistical son-of-a-bitch who ever roamed the earth or he was just pointing out the obvious ... obvious stuff like kinhin.

Your life.

Your call.

Think about it.

Go for a walk, maybe.

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