You sit on the top of a 100-foot pole.

Although you have entered the way, it is not yet genuine.

Take a step from the top of a pole,

and the worlds of the Ten Directions become your body.

~ The Gateless Barrier, Case 46

In Zen, we often say that inside and outside are not two. From one angle, it is fascinating to see the mirror image of our inner world reflected in the outer world of permits, permissions and invitations. But freedom in Zen is not about waiting for approval or an invitation to arrive. It is about stepping off the pole, now.

About half-way through the Academy Award winning documentary Free Solo, Alex Honnold, who is preparing to free-climb (no ropes) the 900-meter El Capitan, in Yosemite Valley, tells the camera crew that has been following him for ten years, “I may just do it, and not tell you guys, not tell anyone. It is obviously much more important to me to feel good about climbing it than getting it filmed.” Honnold’s comment made me think of another mountaineering anecdote: In the early 1980s, resort developer Dick Bass was refused a summiting permit for Mt Everest by the Nepalese government at the time, but he was granted a permit to go part way up the mountain to collect garbage left by other climbers. After his garbage gathering, Bass just continued on up the summit with his companions. Without a permit.

So many times, in my own practice, have I waited permission ~ from the gods, from my teachers, from my students. And not just others. More critically, I wait for permission from myself. Yet somehow, that book of permission slips never gets exhausted. The fact is, that very act of asking keeps us from stepping off the 100-foot pole, from putting our body into the worlds of the Ten Directions.

It was Linji who said, “Students today can’t get anywhere. What ails you? Lack of faith in yourself is what ails you. If you lack faith in yourself, you’ll keep on tumbling along, following in bewilderment after all kinds of circumstances and being taken by them through transformation after transformation without ever attaining freedom.” Well, free permits issued here.