Thursday, February 12, 2004

Beyond the Comfort Zone

A definitive moment in my life happened when I was with a group of people doing dream work. Over the course of a weekend, we were engaging in zen meditation, and rather than the other usual work of a zen retreat, we were examining our dreams. If handled with talent, dream work is intensely therapeutic. The definitive moment came when I hadn’t yet shared my dream. The counselor seemed asked me how I felt, and I responded “I feel like hiding.” My intense feeling of vulnerability surprised me some.

The counselor said, “That’s ok, you can go hide, where would you like to hide? Over here in the corner?” Astonished, I went over there and crouched, the hidey feeling soon gratified and soothed. I had expected something else. We had made a commitment to share, yet I was given permission to continue hiding. With all those concentrated emotions crackling in the air, this compassionate response soon had me willing to come back out. While I was nearly the last to share my dream, and more openings would occur from that work, the definitive moment had occurred: I had uncovered an inclination to hide, and that inclination’s days were numbered.

From that day forward, I was determined not to hide. Where I had been the last to share an intimate thought, I became the first. If a thought rose to consciousness about my fears, my past karma, I pulled on that thread, brought it all to light. I no longer hid from others, or myself. Of course, sometimes that could be intrusive, or tactless, or just plain drama queen material. There would be more lessons learned.

Along the way my fears dissolved, given my repeated experiences of a compassionate world when I let this self-defensive wall dissolve. I learned I could be bigger than I felt I was. I continue to learn how my notion of my self can stretch.

It can be so easy to fall into notions of a static self, and a tendency to nurture that self rather than challenge it. I am a pacifist. I don’t like sports. With such concrete conceits, it’s possible to miss opportunities when they arise. I’ve had the opportunity to stretch these notions of myself.

Given free tickets, I went to my first hockey game. I thought it might be interesting, but to my surprise I really liked it. The players were graceful yet exciting. A smooth execution of a play leading to a goal tasted sweet. While I didn’t appreciate the audience encouragement of fights, I could feel the contributing excitement and adrenalin rush even from my upper level seat. I was happy the home team won. While I don’t see myself becoming an avid follower, I’d love to attend a game again.

On another front, I’ve met someone online who enjoys talking to me (now why would that be?) and wishes to be my friend. Whether this friendship will work out or not, I don’t know. We happen to have some fundamental differences in outlook. Can there still be a friendship in that? As a Buddhist embracing no separation between self and others, embracing non-duality, I like to think it’s possible. Usually my friends fall well within a certain zone of comfort, and we share similar ideals. Yet here also is an opportunity for me to put my ideals to the test: being peace; withholding judgment; stretching my notion of self. I can’t know if it’ll work out unless I give it a try.

It can be that simple, stretching, growing. It’s a matter of meeting opportunities as they present themselves with an open mind, and stepping forward.

Monday, February 02, 2004

Love Like an Ocean

While sitting with my favorite coastal vacation ritual: drinking cream-laden coffee and gazing at the ocean, the phrase ‘love like an ocean’ from the song "Peace Like a River" sprang to my mind. Sometimes in my peace activist activities we sing this song, but more often we sing it in Dharma School.

So gazing at the ocean I muse on 'love like an ocean,' and I wonder, just what does that mean? In Dharma School we barely pause. Like meditation, we let the songs sink in to become a part of us, without intellectualizing.

My first thought: love is boundless. Yet here I am gazing at the boundary. I am reminded of one of my favorite books, "Their Eyes Were Watching God." Towards the end, love is compared to the ocean, and the character Janie says it is through the way it touches the shore that we know it and it is defined between people, if I remember correctly.

Gazing at the ocean, I think even a Tibetan lama with his incredible visualization skills could not encompass the immensity of the ocean. Who could comprehend the incredible volumes of water, the teeming schools of animal life, the strength of the currents? If love is like an ocean, then it is no wonder that in the past my small pitiable ego was unconsciously afraid to experience such a deep love.

Perhaps rather than boundless it is better to say it is immeasurable. A scientist might argue it is measurable, that it is finite and we can attach a number to it. But not only is that number incomprehensible to ordinary consciousness, it must be changing constantly, as water evaporates into the air and comes back down as rain, as ice caps melt and as glaciers form.

If love is like an ocean it surely cannot be under this pitiable ego's control. What can one do but embrace it? Run from it and it still looms, large as the ocean. Love recently defined itself on the shore of a particular person for me. I hesitated to call it that, as he clearly did not want it to exist.

Why love did define itself on this particular shore, I don't know. When faced with such an immeasurable tempest, whether requited or not it is difficult to weather. The ocean is a vast, dangerously wild and uncompromising entity. Usually in the peace song it is comforting to consider a love for humanity vast as the ocean, yet lurking underneath that consciousness is an awareness of the fierceness of that love, the wild untamed nature of that love. Sometimes a truly great person can comprehend that love, and willingly lays their small (by comparison) life on the line for it.