In his new book, Untangled: Walking the Eightfold Path to Clarity, Courage, and Compassion, Soto Zen teacher and New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care co-guiding teacher Koshin Paley Ellison shares personal stories and learning moments to create an approachable guide for finding a meaningful life. Using the eightfold path as a framework, he offers advice, as well as practices, for forming real connections and attaining joy in our troubled times. 

Listen to an interview with Paley Ellison on Tricycle Talks, Tricycle’s monthly podcast, and read an excerpt from the book below that offers a practice for untangling ourselves from the forces that prevent us from moving forward. 

Before we begin exploring the Eightfold Path, we should become familiar with what is blocking us from walking it.

What are the tangles that are constricting our arms and legs so we can’t move, or covering our mouths so we can’t speak? We won’t end our suffering unless we understand it first. So, we begin by focusing on our suffering itself, so that once understood, it can become malleable and workable.

As we age, the jolts and injuries of life can add up and gradually become active in us as forces that take away our autonomy and our presence. Instead of our life being a place of practice, it becomes a place of escaping, a place where we try to run from ourselves. That is, of course, impossible, so our lives become places of impossibility instead of places of possibility.

Practice: Opening the Cage

The following practice can help open you up to the possibility of going beyond your stories. Before we can be free, we often need to be able to imagine ourselves free.

Imagine yourself locked in a tight cage almost the same shape as your body. Feel how uncomfortable it is—the lack of movement and possibilities. The bars of the cage are made out of your stories that limit you. What stories are the bars in front of you made out of? For me, these are the stories I tell myself most often—the greatest hits. Then, imagine the stories that make up the side walls of your cage. What are the stories you are less conscious of that squeeze you in?

Breathe into them. How does that feel? Now take a moment to imagine the bars behind you. What are the stories that keep you against the wall? Breathe into these. Now, imagine that the cage is unlocked, as it actually has always been. What does that feel like in your body and mind? As you push the door open, what happens?

Unlocking our cages is a place of practice.

Excerpted from Untangled by Koshin Paley Ellison. Copyright © 2022 by Koshin Paley Ellison. Reprinted with permission of Balance Publishing. All rights reserved.

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