Monday, April 9, 2012

"Father, mother, forever you wrestle inside me."

Master Sergeant James Edward Keith

Patricia Ann Provenzano

She's strong, olive skinned, waves of black hair. He's upright, Semper Fi, high and tight, green camouflaged.

We sat in front of the fire for a very long time in silence. Her hands, folded neatly in the universal mudra, started to fade into her black robes as the sun went down. This silence was so loud!

Bird, frogs, the bonsho bell, the han, the fire, feet scurrying to Zazen, and we were already sitting, facing each other, just me and one more person willing to dedicate her whole heart to this practice, giving freely. After about twenty minutes, I ask, is it possible to improve this silence? What is timely, beneficial, and true?

She smiled, and said, "Well, coming from an introvert with an affinity for the 15th century, no, we don't have to say anything, we can just sit here."

I wanted to know about our stories; what do we do with them, how is practice benefited by investigating or releasing whatever concepts spring up, sprouting to full blown words, blooming into full blown stories, and inevitably going to seed, guaranteeing their return?

I wanted to know how to stop the stories If I wanted to. I told her my perspective on this from my studies with Kokyo and the Lankavatara. I'll try and explain that here in 4 lines.:

1. Consciousness is 8 parts, the first 5 are your senses, the 6th your concepts, the 7th your story, the 8th is the store house(Alaya Vijana).

2. It works like this:
Something apparently arises, you sense it, it hurts (1-5).
You look down and see an arrow in your chest and, ouch, I have an arrow in my chest (6)
You think, "I'm always getting hit by arrows!" (7)
You have story.I'm in pain because I'm a person that gets hit by arrows, this is why I fail (8)

3. In the Lankavatara, the Buddha says, it's this 6th consciousness that starts samsara.

So, on a Saturday night, I'm facing the teacher, and I want to know, what came first, the tears or the story about horse slaughter, beating dogs, and other things I did while in Alaska.

And stories about my father and suffering he endured.

And then the story about my mafioso grandfather who stabbed my grandmother.

And then the story of we're doomed, because our karma is a violent karma (this was my great uncle.)

In the movie Tree of Life, there's a voice over during a scene where children play, father comes home from work, mother wanders through the trees, and it says, "Father, mother, forever you wrestle inside me."

Does that get anyone else too? Does anyone else have beautifully complex parents? Intricate, fascinating, parents?

I think Karma and Alaya Vijana might be more complex and comprehensive, like you actually have the entire world, Gandhi in the right corner, Hitler in the left, wrestling inside you.

Wisdom beyond wisdom, she was kind, gentle, and firm. "You're not going to stab anyone, because to stab someone is to stab the Buddha, is to stab yourself. There are two schools around here: one that says we can drop our stories, the other that say that will never happen, so we can change them, and should. But, thinking is what we do when we want to get away from feeling. That's what our stories are doing. If you want to be present with your what arises, practice tonglen."

I've not studied much about tonglen, but here she simply said to breathe in whatever arises- anger, greed, sadness, and breathe out compassion.

Compassion: what the hell does this mean? Just to wish self and others to be free of the occupier.

This has helped in the past few days as the open box of karma (ripped open by sesshin?) seems to be dumped on my lap. What's interesting is to engage pleasant feelings with pleasant concepts and stories coming up (from the Lankavatara, this too is a trap-this too will plant seeds).

For example, working in the kitchen in close proximity to others, I'd want to speak, which is not something we do during work practice. If you have something important to say, you say it, and if you have something very important to say, you ask someone to step to the side or catch them later. So I'm talking about words like, "Hey, do you like neutral milk hotel? I'm a king of carrot flowers!" too.

What makes me want to say a silly thing like that? Happiness, actually. Sometimes love. What a thing to do, breathe in love, breathe out compassion. This feels powerfully changing.

There's also a lot of frustrated and anxious energy in the kitchen, too. It was very helpful to recognize that's what was going on and breathe out compassion.

This is a lot, and this is all. Thank you for checking in. Sorry for the delay.


  1. "Does that get anyone else too?"


  2. Need to fix the URL on the Wikipedia link.

    Did not know NMH, but I have to say I like Everything Is. Finally breaking free from fear/ and it's fading.

    Angulimala stopped being a murderer, and dealt with his rather massive karma in this life, I've always taken that as an encouragement.

    1. You also asked about epic interesting parents, yes indeed, more similar than you might imagine.

    2. Dear Stonecutter,

      Angulimala is why I'm all in.

  3. Going back to your point no. 2, this may be simplistic, but I think the problem arises when you move from "Ouch, this" to thinking about the arrow. Pull the arrow out,i.e. Go back to your breath/what's real this moment.

    Writing your memories/stories to heal is another thing. I've done a little of this, using a specific technique, and it was very moving and seemed helpful.

  4. Dear Dalai Grandma,

    That's exactly what the Lanka is saying!

    I'm interested in this technique- easy to point to from here?

  5. I knew I didn't make it up.

    I have used a book called "Writing as a Way opf Healing" by Louise DeSalvo. It teaches a method based on scientific research. She writes well, lots of references. I am interested to look at it now and see a chapter that talks about writing as practice, referring to the enso. I had checked this Zen proverb: How you do anything is how you do everything.

    1. On slightly related note, I have a friend who swears by changing his handwriting he changed his life...

      Can I just change my font, then?

  6. That is pathetically not related. Anyway, there is evidence that it counts - manuscripts submitted in Georgia font are accepted more often.

    I wonder what he meant by "changed his life." It sounds so youthful and sweeping. I have been through some radical changes, but I believe I have carried my central problems with me, this nonsolid self, this mind I can't show you. Modified the way I handle them, changed some important behaviors. I can imagine a fairy tale that would illustrate that. When the prince gets over the mountain and looks down, he sees...

    1. There are more radical ways of changing your life, like hearing the phrase, "The Lotus Sutra."

      I thought life was a fairy tale.