The dog crap of life. We all have to deal with it. This was a tough week for me and while I was walking my dog (and cleaning up her crap) in the neighborhood it occurred to me that zazen functions as a bag for the dog crap of my life. Now, just before Thanksgiving I was rammed on the freeway during traffic by the car behind me when it failed to stop.
This accident caused me a lot of anxiety, not just because of the unexpected nature of being hit, but because the individual wasn't being very cooperative with the insurance companies about it. Long story short this was not going to be resolved any time very soon. I do not deal well with unresolved issues and they cause me lots of anxiety until the problem is solved.
So, I did what I could do to solve it and decided that because of the accident I would not be able to attend zazen at the center that Monday evening. Totally understandable. Yet, I watched as this anxiety began to creep around my stomach, heart, and then on up to my brain. The next day on Tuesday I began to think, "I'm too anxious to sit on Tuesday as well...".
The teachings of Soto Zen remind us "Sit with what you have in your life", or "everyday life is the way". This all sounds great and I can see this when my life is going really well, but surely they are not talking about anxiety, car accidents, and the fear that comes from interdependence with people who make life more difficult. Everyday life is not that great...how can it be the way?
I decided that I was going to sit with this problem, anxiety, and fear along with my sangha that very Tuesday. I didn't want to, but I wanted to see for my self if this was possible with all the dog crap of life all over my hands. It turns out whether i want to do something or not, is totally irrelevant to the functioning of my daily life. As I watched the anxiety move from my stomach, up to my chest, and eventually get caught in my throat I tried hard to effortlessly maintain the effort of "thinking non-thinking" as Dogen puts it in Fukanzazengi.
This physical sensation of anxiety kept flowing and I kept sitting. It occurred to me that this was not the same anxiety coming up over and over, but new anxiety from repeated thought patterns of the same fear. The fear of my interdependence with others is very frightening. We have to be interconnected to those that scare us, hurt us, threaten us, and all the other nasty bits because that is what it means to live in the world. We can't control other people's actions. We can be responsible for how we respond, what we can do, and the actions we take. That's all.
This is like picking up after my dog. The dog will never stop pooping as long as she is alive. I will never stop picking it up, as long as I'm alive. Zazen is the bag that I use to handle the "dog crap of life". Zazen keeps returning to what is directly in my life, my everyday life. As long as we are alive we will suffer in some way. Zen will not take that away. Even Shakyamuni Buddha had to endure the pain of sesshin, hunger, illness, and death. Why should I be any different? The practice of the Buddha-Dharma is to handle this suffering in life with a present, aware, and upright posture. This will NOT take away the mess from suffering, but it provides a great container to carry it to the trash.