The secret of Zen is just two words: not always so.
—Shunryu Suzuki Roshi
It takes some training to equate complete letting go with comfort. But in fact, “nothing to hold on to” is the root of happiness. There’s a sense of freedom when we accept that we’re not in control. Pointing ourselves toward what we would most like to avoid makes our barriers and shields permeable.
This may lead to a don’t-know-what-to-do kind of feeling, a sense of being caught in-between. On the one hand, we’re completely fed up with seeking comfort from what we can eat, drink, smoke, or couple with. We’re also fed up with beliefs, ideas, and “isms” of all kinds. But on the other hand, we wish it were true that outer comfort could bring lasting happiness.
This in-between state is where the warrior spends a lot of time growing up. We’d give anything to have the comfort we used to get from eating a pizza or watching a video. However, even though those things can be pleasurable, we’ve seen that eating a pizza or watching a video is a feeble match for our suffering. We notice this especially when things are falling apart. If we’ve just learned that we have cancer, eating a pizza doesn’t do much to cheer us up. If someone we love has just died or walked out, the outer places we go to for comfort feel feeble and ephemeral.
We are told about the pain of chasing after pleasure and the futility of running from pain. We hear also about the joy of awakening, of realizing our interconnectedness, of trusting the openness of our hearts and minds. But we aren’t told all that much about this state of being in-between, no longer able to get our old comfort from the our side but not yet dwelling in a continual sense of equanimity and warmth.
Anxiety, heartbreak, and tenderness mark the in-between state. It’s the kind of place we usually want to avoid. The challenge is to stay in the middle rather than buy into struggle and complaint. The challenge is to let it soften us rather than make us more rigid and afraid. Becoming intimate with the queasy feeling of being in the middle of nowhere only makes our hearts more tender. When we are brave enough to stay in the middle, compassion arises spontaneously. By not knowing, not hoping to know, and not acting like we know what’s happening, we begin to access our inner strength.
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