“Before we pass through, it seems like a silver mountain and an iron wall. When we have passed through, from the first, our very self is the silver mountain and the iron wall…”
~ The Blue Cliff Record, Case 57 (introduction by Yuan Wu)
Synchronicity. That is what some folks call the thing that when we feel a certain way ~ happy, sad, in love ~ the world around us also seems to feel that way. From a Zen point of view, the explanation is simple: our heart-mind is the heart-mind of the universe. So, when we are happy, the whole world is happy, and when we are sad, the whole world is sad.
As synchronicity would have it, last week the above poem kind of jumped out at me while I was reading it with a friend. It is a poem about the frustrations in our lives and practice when we sometimes feel like we are fruitlessly scaling sliver mountains and banging our heads against iron walls. A couple of days later, I was touched when another friend expressed how he really felt stuck in working on the koan No. These things resonated with me because, in recent weeks, I have felt a stucked-ness (is that a word?), in my unvarying weekly calendar of teaching and writing, teaching and writing. Was I really making any progress? Were the people I was working with making any progress? What the hell are we doing here, anyway?
For me, the meaning of Yuan Wu’s above lines about trying to summit a silver mountain and banging our heads against an iron wall, is that, in the end, mountains and walls are not barriers at all. They are essentially ourselves. We are the roadblocks. Maybe it doesn’t feel so good to be stuck. But being stuck is awakening itself. To me, that message is so much deeper than, when feeling low and blah, we get a locker-room pep talk, like: Hang in there! Plow through! Everything will be fine in the end! That may be positive advice, but it still separates the world into “camps”: self and other, good and bad, brilliant and dull. Awakening is understanding that those camps are the same camp.
So, students have asked me, “What should I do when I feel stuck?” When faced with hard questions, I usually offload them to other teachers in my community. Recently, at a musical concert in Tennessee, where he is serving as “Zen Master in Residence”, PZI’s director was asked by a radio host: What should an artist do if they suffer from writer’s block? He answered, “In a sense, we unload what we are doing.” He advised, “Do it sideways. Write a bad song! (laughter from the radio crew).” Of course! Write a bad blog note! Here you are, dear reader, I offer you a sample.