Going home for the holidays can bring up a lot about who we think we are, who our family thinks we are, and who we actually are or are not. And then there is who they wish we were. Do your parents wish you were a Zen monk? I don't think my in-laws do.
When they met me I was a vibrant middle school teacher, full of interesting stories from inner city living. For the last four years my wife and I have been living at Zen center, preceding each Christmas with a rousing Rohatsu sesshin. After seven days of silence it's into Johnny Mathis' winter wonderland.
I catch a sense of dubious suspicion about what it is I "do". My inlaws are power types- Dad was an officer in the Marines, then did a career with the fire department, Mom was a computer programmer, brother is an engineer, other brother a foreign service agent, and I feel quite irrelevant.
Feeling irrelevant can be a dangerous thing, if you're sensitive. I'm pretty sensitive. And I've witnessed a cycle around the holidays which goes something like, I don't feel important, how can I feel important, various actions to feel important, and obviously not really ever convincing myself that I'm important.
And I'm pretty sure this is all in my head. Also in my head is the ideal of being a monk of no rank. Taking the smallest cookie is easier in the monastery, as everyone aspires to take the smallest cookie. The competition of taking the smallest cookie might be the hardest part!
In a renunciation context giving things up can become a sort of game. You'll have people saying well I sleep on a zabouton, well I sleep on just the tatami and I sleep on just the floor. Coming home where everyone is sleeping in pretty cushy beds shines a light on the true heart of renunciation.
I think the true heart of renunciation means accepting what is offered, whether it's a rich meal or a poor meal and eating it with the same mind which thinks of the self as neither less than nor greater than.
At least that's what I'm telling myself. What I really want to say is that it is not easy feeling like a Zen weirdo.