Your Emotional States Are Only Real to You

A prominent Zen monk once wrote to me after describing a conflict with one of his most senior students, “We who teach Zen have the daily privilege to bring an ancient wisdom to people which helps them to open their minds, just so that many of those same people can then later hate us for helping reveal to them all the areas where they have been stuck and suffering, but not be able to fix the problems for them.” He was expressing, in dark humor, an irony that often lurks at the edges of this work.

One of the greatest joys and blessings of this job and this calling is seeing how many people can liberate themselves from habitual patterns of self-created suffering. And yet, when people become just “half-liberated” — when they merely begin to taste the fruits of relief as they see it, but for one reason or another cannot do the strong, consistent application of effort to “follow through” on their initial insights — they can then expect the guide or teacher to somehow “solve” these matters for them. Or they become discouraged by the inching progress of refining their first, seemingly rapid insights, and feel they are being “cheated” somehow by the teaching or the “methodology” (for want of a much better word) that does not grant them lasting, constant relief. I have seen this countless times over the last three decades. And then when the guide cannot or will not solve these matters — because he or she CANNOT do that — then there is often a bitterness toward the teacher. Relations become sour. As a colleague once said to me, “If a student does not like what they see in the mirror, often the easiest solution is to punch the mirror!”

When we have the sacred honor to “teach” this mind-tech called meditation — especially the exquisitely refined hacking-tech packaged as Zen, real temple Zen — we also get the downside of experiencing the suffering of those who have only the time or resources or karmic commitment to see the work merely “halfway through.” Even my own work is not finished, in the sense that I am constantly in awe of the constant production of tricks and seductions by the mind and its habitual patterns. Even seeing those patterns to be completely unreal, and have them realized as the utter illusions they are, yet some wiring can have been installed by the unexamined repetition of thought-patterns for the decades before meditation practice became firmly committed on the disk.

How much more for people who get but a little taste from a few retreats. The stabilizing trust in this vast, indescribable awareness can take much more time, especially while going about life in this distracting, distracted world.

As Dae Soen Sa Nim used to sign-off his letters, “Only go straight don’t know — try try try, for 10,000 years nonstop, get enlightenment, save all beings from suffering.” This is the only way through such things.

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