In his Tricycle Retreat, Gerry Shishin Wick, Roshi, has been introducing us to his teachings on “The Great Heart Way,” which is a deep exploration of the contents of our consciousness and the habitual patterns that dominate our thinking. In his week 1 talk, he tells us a story from his own life that illustrates both the origins of these teachings as well their profound reach into mental habits and conditioning.
In the practice of the Great Heart Way, we use our non-judgmental awareness to get in touch with our feelings and what’s going on in our bodies without adding our narratives or dramas to it. We just see what comes up.
Let me give you an example using myself. By most standards I’ve had a successful life. I’ve always been an overachiever. When I went through high school I got straight A’s and was a valedictorian. I was athletic, a champion swimmer. I went to college and graduated with honors and then got a PhD in physics, studied with Nobel Laureates and other marvelous teachers, and so on. But all through this I had this gnawing underlying feeling that I wasn’t good enough. No matter what, I wasn’t quite adequate. Something wasn’t complete. Even after I studied for 23 years with Maezumi Roshi and completed all my training with him I still had this feeling.
Master Hakuin, who was a great 18th century Japanese master said, “the most difficult part of our practice is dealing with our habit-ridden consciousness.” At first, I had no idea where this habit of not feeling good enough came from. But when I started to practice in the way that became the basis of “The Great Heart Way,” I would just stay with those feelings. It’s only a thought that I’m not adequate. What is the bodily feeling of this inadequacy? What’s actually going on inside me? It was a tightness, a sinking in the pit of my stomach. When I would meditate I would just stay present with that feeling rather than try to go to a place of calm and emptiness. I would just feel it, totally. What happens when we do this is that images of our earlier feelings begin to arise.
For me, I had a very clear memory of being in religious school when I was a young boy, probably six or seven. I was raised in a Jewish family and in my religious school they would tell these Bible stories and I would always find them very frightening. For example, when Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the tablets and got angry at everyone for worshipping the golden calf, I found that frightening. With Noah and the Ark, I worried about all the people that were drowned. As I sat in meditation with this feeling, all those stories came up along with all my feelings around them. Then one became very vivid, it was the story of Abraham and Isaac.
In this story, Abraham was commanded by god to sacrifice his son, Isaac, in order to show his devotion. He took Isaac into the mountains under some pretext and put him on a stone and was going to sacrifice him until god intervened and gave him a ram to sacrifice instead. I vividly remember hearing that story and telling myself that Isaac was a good boy and look what they’re doing to him! What will happen to somebody like me? I remember telling myself, you better be perfect or you will be killed. That thought, that I had then, stayed in my unconscious mind, in my shadow memory, for my whole life.
Through meditation I was able to access this and I was able to heal it. This is part of The Great Heart Way, how to heal these things.
-Gerry Shishin Wick, Roshi
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