A note from Erin:
Years ago when Carl and I were involved in what I see in retrospect as a waaaayyyyy too serious and heavy version of Buddhist study and practice, we went for many years without watching a movie. We quit reading fiction. Entirely. We didn’t go camping or travel hardly at all. We rarely saw our families. We had to practice. And in the view that we were operating from, practice was a lot of hours on the meditation cushion, while off the cushion we did self-reflection sponsored by a rather heavy-handed inner critic, and we distanced ourselves from what we considered “distractions,” (otherwise known as most of the stuff that makes up a modern human life.)
How weird (or maybe not) that during those years, my meditation practice and my relationship with my teacher was the most stressful thing in my entire life. (Bass-ackwards, no?) There was a strong sense that we had no time to lose, frittering our lives away in “idle pleasures and distractions” when we’re going to die and who knows when? It was really important to prioritize taming our minds (bad mind! stay!) and moving in the direction of enlightenment. I remember having dinner with a couple of non-buddhist friends one night during that period and the guy asked us, “What do you guys do for fun?” Carl and I looked at each other completely confused. “Fun?!”
I don’t even remember what we said. We were honestly baffled. What would’ve been accurate to say was, “We don’t have fun.”
Years later, after leaving that teacher and practice group, I got confirmation from my acupuncturist who noted how much more balanced and healthy I was. She still remarks when I see her, “You are so different!” My pulses are steady, my vitality is 100 times more clear. I still value my meditation practice big time, and my spiritual practice is still central in my life, but I have a really different sense of the deep importance of integrating it into everyday human life, including fun. I guess something in me knew that when our son was born, I couldn’t stay inside that container and be the kind of parent I aspired to be.
A few weeks ago our dear friend and teacher Russell Delman came to stay with us and teach a workshop. He’s a zen practitioner and teacher of more than 40 years. When we first began to work with him there was a delightful moment of integration when after one of Russell’s workshops, he invited Carl to go with him to watch a basketball game at a local bar (as we don’t have a tv.) Sure, do a meditation retreat, and then go watch a game and have a beer with the teacher. No conflict. Why would there be?
Russell has used this phrase I love: “All one life.”
Years ago when teaching a workshop for Feldenkrais teachers he asked, “Is there ever a time when you’re teaching, or you’re with your clients or other people, and then you go to the bathroom and you heave a big sigh where you can kind of let down into your real self?”
We nodded, sure, yeah.
Then he said with a twinkle, “I’m so glad I never have that anymore.”
That’s integration. No performance. No posturing. A simple human being, being human, whether while meditating or drinking a beer and watching a game.
I had another level of integration this past weekend when Russell was staying with us. Once again, he was here in March and if you know basketball, you know March Madness was on: College hoops, which both Carl and Russell love. Though we don’t have a tv, we do have a computer. Our iMac just happens to sit in our office. Our office just happens to be the room in which I shove stuff I don’t have time to deal with before guests come over. Picture it: Our two desks are covered with highly unorganized stacks of books, papers, files, a random assortment of Mesa’s toys and drawings, a basket from his Valentine’s event at school, a vase of spent flowers, unopened mail, a role of duct tape, my sun hat…. you get the picture. It’s a mess. And it’s the room I usually like to close up when anyone is coming over so they don’t see my mess.
Do you know where this story is going?
Well, not only did Russell and Carl watch basketball after the workshop, they did it quite joyfully sitting right smack in the midst of my messy office.
What else could I do but comfort the part of me that was completely horrified, and then completely relax? (No one else seemed to be horrified.)
Zen master sitting in the midst of the messy room I try to hide?
Now I can let go of that version of “being perfect.” :)
I was struck earlier this year reading one of Mark Nepo’s wonderful books when he wrote about the human tendency to “engage in practice in a way that crowds out life.”
Have you ever done that?
I’m mildly embarrassed to admit how well I know that dynamic. Getting so dedicated to a yoga practice that it crowds out what I really need, or crowds out even my recognition that my practice was causing me pain. Getting so intense about meditation and “awakening” that I shut out most of life to do it.
In the moment I feel great tenderness and humor for my younger self, so eagerly trying so hard. Sweetheart….
I’m so damn grateful to be on a practice path that doesn’t split the world into “spiritual” and “unspiritual” activities anymore. I’m a human with a human life. An often messy, imperfect, sometimes hard and often profoundly beautiful life.
I wouldn’t want a path that is about freeing me from life, but helping me to find freedom within it.
I’m so happy to be in a place of integration rather than exclusion. Tantrikas, dzogchen yogis and zen-guys like Russell tend to embrace rather than renounce normal human life.
Integration, not escape. I’m all about it.
I can steep in wisdom teachings and practices and wholeheartedly include dinners with friends, sipping my favorite cabernet, watching basketball games, reading historical fiction (Diana Gabaldon baby!), enjoying family visits, watching good movies, and writing from my messy office, as I am right now.
Can you imagine being essentially your same authentic self across any context?
Have you ever engaged in a practice that has “crowded out life” from your life?
What might “all one life” mean for you?
Thanks for reading!
Hoping you have a wonderful, fully human day.