If you turn the light inward and witness your own nature,
Your nature, which is empty nature,
You go beyond any doctrine.
~ Hakuin Ekaku, Song in Praise of Meditation
It is a logical impulse for all of us to push away from personal pains, both physical and emotional, which we naturally encounter in our lives. But Zen is not a practice of avoidance. Instead of turning away from that which is difficult, we turn toward it and shine a light inward. In doing so, sometimes even the heaviest of burdens lighten. And the lighter burdens, well, were they ever a burden at all?
Construction crews are repaving the road in front of my house, and yesterday morning I was just about to sit down in quiet meditation when a jackhammer opened up from twenty yards away. Closing the window did not dampened the noise. My first impulse was to wait for another moment to sit. After all, logic tells us, a quiet place is necessary for peaceful meditation. Instead, I plopped down amid the great cacophony. Rat tat tat tat! Rat tat tat tat! the hammer pounded. It felt like the fillings in my teeth were beginning to loosen. And when the crew laid down some hot, noxious tar, my altar candle seemed to flare from the malodorous gas.
After a time, though the sound remained loud and unbroken, and the noxious fumes lingered, I began to feel a bit more intimate with the noise and the fumes. When not defining, the sound of a jackhammer had a kind of beauty to it, and the smell of tar, was, well, very tar-like. I sat that way for a while, with a kind of appreciation for the disturbances. And now? I can hardly wait for the next stock market crash so I can shine a light on it.
The beautiful sound of a jackhammer: