Stuck! Oh, the Path of Zen

Here’s a very odd thing about Zen practice – a lot of the time, especially the first ten years or so, most of us most of the time are stuck.

What kind of a hinky path is that? It’s supposed to be a path, after all, something that goes from here to there.

And there’s the rub.

In Keep Me in Your Heart a While (described by one reader as “… the best, least read Zen book of the decade” – ah, stop the flattery already!), I describe the stuck! phase as the third of six stages of the Zen path:

1. Idealization (“Zen seems so cool, we love everybody in the community and the Zen teacher seems to possess something special, expressing what is in our hearts before we even know it ourselves”);

2. Covert clinging to hopes for magical gain (“We begin to get more sophisticated and cover our original childlike and obvious hopes that somehow Zen is going to resolve our relationship issues, relieve our dysthymia without Prozac, and brighten our teeth”);

3. Very crabby (“Zen utterly sucks, the community is a bunch of nut cases and the teacher is at best an ordinary person whose fault it is that our precious idealization has worn off—or that our stinky self-clinging has been exposed….. At this stage, most people quit and go on to something else, imagining that the high of infatuation can be recaptured with another teacher, another tradition, or a softer or harder practice”);

4. Steadily walking without getting anywhere (“The practice at this stage is simply done for the sake of the practice itself. Searching for a motive at this stage is adding a head on top of a head. If we just stay with it,we might even start to get over our self a bit and direct our life to actualizing a purpose greater than ourself”).

5. Experiencing fruition (“a trouble-maker”); and

6. Falling into a well (“We’re back at the first stage, albeit with a different vista, idealizing our life and not cleaning under the hedge, assuring the full employment of Buddha”).

Phew! What a gas bag.

Anyway, the point is that the path of Zen goes from here to here and what we learn to do is be what we are – stay put, in other words.

Does that mean that the practice suggestion is to sink, soak, slobber, and slump into a melancholy stuckness?

No way! Sit up in it earnestly.

Does that mean that the practice suggestion is to fight, figure, fidget and find just the right spiritual technique that will free us from stuckness?

No way! Sit down in it earnestly.

Now maybe you’d like a poem to put a little make-up on the drab point I’m making and I just happen to have one here from Leonard Cohen’s “The Letters:”

Your story was so long,
The plot was so intense,
It took you years to cross
The lines of self-defense.
The wounded forms appear:
The loss, the full extent;
And simple kindness here,
The solitude of strength.

And maybe you’d even like a koan to put a little Zen on the point I’m making and, well, I’m happy to oblige:

As Fayan was excavating a well, the spring’s eye was blocked by sand.  He asked a monk, “The spring’s eye doesn’t penetrate the sand blocking it. When the eye of the Way is blocked, what is it blocked by?”

The monk had no reply.

Fayan answered for himself, “It is blocked by the eye.”

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