IN this World, not OF this World

Jesus Himself said, “The world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not pray that you should take them out of the world, but that you should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world” (John 17:14-16).

A student recently asked about the hard experience she had when encountering friends again after being in nearly three months of coronavirus-lockdown. She had originally complained about the isolation of the lockdown period, especially even the lack of physical contact — hugging, embracing, kissing, being touched. And now, after meeting friends again, she came back feeling the terrible pain of their self-inflicted sufferings. It made her almost regret ever having a problem with the lockdown-isolation in the first place.

Practicing Zen means simply “meditating,” and meditating is observing, seeing, attaining our True Nature, which is Moment. And attaining moment happens nowhere else than right where we really are. It sounds too simple, maybe even New Agey. But this is the whole point.

Our practice happens in this world — in the midst of work and family and relationship, in the midst of busyness and the cares of life in the modern world. But as practitioners from the Buddha to Jesus see, those who strive to make such insight stable in their lives — while practicing in the here-and-now of our mundane lives — do not need to follow or be determined by the empty conventions, the mediocre value systems, and the endlessly unsatisfactory social needs of the human web to which we are linked by relation, by work or family or affiliation, by tribe or politics or thought or fashion. We ARE in this world, living out our practice; but we are not bound to remain “of” this world. It need not define us, prescribe us, or limit us in any way.

Here is the video where I give a shot at explaining this to a member of our community who reached out:

Here is the short teaser for that teaching-video. It was just something which Ioannis and I cranked out one afternoon, without any sort of plan:

Find Your Gethsemane!

What was the last thing that Jesus did, as a free man, immediately before his arrest by the Roman authorities acting on behalf of the high priests? What was his very last chosen action, before he gave up his civic freedom into the hands of his torturers and killers?

He did not scheme some “last stand”. He did not attempt to work out an escape, to buy more time. He did not hold hands with his tribe and seek comfort in numbers and a sing-song sing-song fake religiosity. He didn’t take those options. In the final minutes of his liberty, he went into a grove of trees to pray, to reflect on life and coming death — alone. He left friends, protectors, and disciples outside the grove, and entered into his solitude.

Alone.

This is an excellent teaching from Jesus. It points us, too, to consciously seek out our silence and solitude. In the midst of the trials and tortures of everyday existence, it remains to us to choose the means by which we will not only maintain our sanity, but also hopefully be strong enough to help and serve other people, even while we are beset by the challenges and suffering of everyday life in stressful cities, jobs, or relationships. But you don’t get that just from reading a book. You must choose your periods of solitude. Only through periods of meditative calm away from distractions — even if just for short periods — can we remain stable and calm, grounded in our unmoving, completely fearless don’t-know mind.

(Excerpt from a talk in Haugesund, Norway, May 2019)