Letting Go: A Small Zen Meditation

Letting Go: A Small Zen Meditation September 10, 2019




I find myself thinking of the late popular science writer Stephen Jay Gould. Today, the 10th of September, he would have turned seventy-eight. If he’d not died in 2002.

A while back when preparing for a talk I became obsessed with finding a half remembered citation from him.

However, after decades of acquisitions as Jan & I knew we were going to be retiring and as part of that moving from a house to a condo that we had to downsize. Jan, a librarian by trade and having little sentiment attached to the artifact of books easily, fairly easily shed the vast majority of her books. She knows where to access them. Me, well, it was much harder. Even with two and a half major purges before moving our apartment is filled with books. Every room save the bathrooms and the kitchen have books, walls of books. Well, actually, the kitchen does, too.

But even with several thousand books crammed into our apartment, things are gone. And after a pretty serious search I’ve had to accept that I not only let go of everything I’d owned by Stephen Gould, I seem to have let go of nearly every book that touched on natural sciences.

Not all. I saw a copy of Gould’s sometime nemesis, sometime ally, Edward O Wilson‘s lovely thesis Biophilla. I noticed in passing a copy of Susan Blackmore‘s Consciousness. Actually, I seem to have retained a fair amount of consciousness studies literature, at least as it touches on Buddhism. But, sadly, sadly, Gould and other writers of that sort are gone.

As sometimes happens in that loose chain of consciousness that calls itself “me,” I began to think of how we have our day and that day doesn’t last.

In some of my Zen circles there are increasing dissents from what has become normative “Western” style Zen. In particular among some of the younger Zen teachers in my circles there’s been a back to Japan movement. Of course, all along there have been connections. But, for some its stronger. And, it comes with varying degrees of rejection of the adaptations of Zen that my generation made.

Mostly this is for the good. I think. I hope. In the long haul.

And. (A friend notes “and” is my personal slogan. I think he’s right.) And. Some questions are perennials within our tradition. What is enlightenment? For one. The centrality or not of awakening experiences is another. The degree to which we accept the challenges thrown down by modernity and the messiness of life as we encounter it, would be another. And, of course, what is adequate in the formation of a Zen practitioner, a priest, a teacher?

And, it’s all personal. People sometime say it’s not. But, it is. It’s all personal.

And, as I find that wonderful writer Stephen Jay Gould, who had a large heart, and a questing mind, and shared a love of science, well, he’s not just gone from my bookshelves. His day has passed as well. Others have stepped into that niche. As it has always been. As I begin to see for myself…

So, there’s also that little practice of letting go.

It’s an inside joke for Zen people. Letting go. Well, everything goes. You can either let go gracefully. Or, not. But, the go will go.

This is in fact the heart of our practice. it’s not zazen. It’s not koans. Yes, it is both of them. And. And. It’s really letting go.

Letting go.

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