**Sent to me by my friends at One Dharma Nashville
Zen Student: "When times of great difficulty visit us, how should we greet them?"
In a Dark Place, You Still Have What Really Counts
The beauty and nobility of your life might be more visible to you if a dark contrast is available. A woman who was meditating with the koan at the start of this piece-the little conversation about hard times and "welcome"-was in an unusual situation. Her father was prosecuted for the murder of her mother, a death that happened decades ago and for which no resolution has been found. No one close to the situation believes her father did this. But someone with a grudge, and hearsay evidence, and a relative with dementia, and an eager prosecutor...If it's a cliché that a prosecutor can get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich, it becomes personal when you are related to the ham sandwich.
The woman with the meditation practice noticed something unexpected, though-she is happy, she's not outraged, and although people expect and even want her to be angry with the prosecutor, that is not what she feels. She gave counsel to her father, and sympathy, and money for defense lawyers, but she didn't have to give her own emotional well-being. The intensity of the difficulty actually drove her to deeper practice and the world suddenly became very beautiful, not at an unspecified future date, when the situation would be resolved, but now, when nothing is resolved, or fair, or sensible-now, when it's now. Even the prosecutor's face glowed with light. "No one told me it would be like this," she said. Awakening might happen at any time, perhaps especially when we are convinced that something else is going on. That's a positive surprise, a benign-catastrophe.
If You Are in a Predicament, There Will Be a Gate
In the main, koans are predicaments the you can use in case you don't have one lying around in your life. Usually, of course, you do have a predicament, since being human is a predicament. I might think that it's a bad thing to have lost something, but if I start from the current situation there will always be a doorway. When I meditate it's like calling out a spell in a forgotten language. The spell slowly traces the outlines of a door, making the way out visible, even in twilight, even in the darkest, most forgotten prison. When we lose money or get a diagnosis, we might decide that this is a bad thing, but we might be wrong. Uncertainty and the unknown are not things to endure; they are things to rely on. If you don't even consider winning or losing, there will always be a doorway.
When I had cancer, I thought it might be inconvenient or frightening, but it was interesting. It made me a lot less lazy about being present. There was a time when diagnosis, course of treatment, and outcome were all uncertain, and in that condition my mind reached for certainty over and over again. That quest, being hopeless, brought pain. But when my mind stopped reaching out and fell back into the warm dark of uncertainty, time stretched out infinitely on either side and there was a pool of joy that seemed bottomless-joy in breathing, joy in hearing the birds in the cold before dawn. Having cancer was much more exciting than sitting in an armchair watching the game on Sunday. And everything I looked at had the aspect of tenderness and delicacy. I looked into the checkout clerk's eyes and saw the universe looking back.