I am dedicating this series of posts — Adventures in Zen — to my teachers Anita Feng, JDPSN and Eric Nord, JDPSN, of the Blue Heron Zen Center in Seattle.
Last night, my bff Eric and I attended our first retreat-related dharma talk
at BHZC. Due to not seeing that there was to be a retreat on the schedule and thus not knowing about it till two nights ago, my Eric and I both already had time commitments on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, this weekend, so we were only able to attend last night's sit and dharma talk. [We'd hoped to make it to this evening's sit and dharma talk, but something came up just now and my Eric won't be able to make it.]
Friday evening's talk was mainly about the Three Doors of Liberation: Emptiness
, Signlessness, and Aimlessness.
While I have long had a strong association of Emptiness with this thing that happens with my qi after it opens up in my heart and then my throat and solar plexus followed by my abdomen and third eye and finally my crown and root, where I am eventually no longer attached to my body but still reside fully in it and experience all sensory input to it with wakeful detachment, I had not considered that of course this emptiness I experience can and does render the sense of “me” as expansive, unbounded, not limited to this body, but inclusive of All — or as many of my online and activist friends might say inclusive of “all the things” — people, plants, animals, rocks, mountains, the oceans and, well, all the things. :D (big grin)
I wish I could remember exactly what Eric Nord, our teacher last night, said but Emptiness seems to have something to do not only with the above physical experience I have while meditating, reading about Zen (and even while writing this blog post), and sometimes while chanting, he also said it had something to do with the sangha — or perhaps any group of people one belongs to? — a sense of the greater “I” rather than the little “I”? That “I” is like Omega
(but without the angst) at the end of time
including all beings? I shall have to do more reading/listening on this subject.
I googled the Three Doors of Liberation, where I found a long talk
by Thich Nhat Hanh that touches on the subject of the Three Doors of Liberation. I haven't listened to it yet, but will over the next few days.
The concept of Signlessness was interesting to me because it seems to be about how, despite a thing's form, it is made of the same underlying substance as any other thing. This is a more ancient concept than that of electrons, protons, and neutrons which make up all the atoms in the Universe, and in a way goes beyond present physics understanding, since it alludes to something even more fundamental than leptons, quarks, and neutrinos, something out of which all these elementary particles are made.
Our teacher talked about aging in this context: the common laments people in our society utter at such things as the loss of hair, the appearance of new wrinkles and so forth, and how the underlying person whose body ages and changes with time, that person is still the same person. This got me to thinking about being trans and how my body does not look like “me”, or the concept I have of myself, my ideal visage and ideal set of abilities. Further, I thought about how I have known for many years that I am the same person now as I was when I was three in this incarnation, yet I am taller, have a different set of teeth, have scars, have somewhat darker hair, etc. But I am still me
Of course, this body's appearance and set of physical, cognitive, and sensory limitations have chafed me constantly since my earliest memories in the way that transgender people's bodies often do (body dysphoria
), but I have learned to accept — to stop struggling against — that form of suffering and make peace with the body I have at this time and place in my multi-incarnational life. This makes sense: learning to accept whatever vessel happens to hold me at any point in time will serve me well into illness and death and into the emotional pitfalls of growing up in a new incarnation. Again, I am sure I shall have much more to learn about Signlessness over time.
And the last, Aimlessness, seems to be about becoming detached from feelings of having to be somewhere or do something in life in order to feel like one has “arrived”. I think this is something I am right in the middle of learning: I've spent the past two years reading blog posts, articles, and conversations all on the subject of the value of Disabled lives. That we are just as human and just as possessing of agency and mind as any (temporarily) abled person and we have just as much right to exist in this world as anyone else, regardless of whether or how well we can produce things and regardless of how much assistance we may need to accomplish day-to-day tasks (what are sometimes called “activities of daily living” or ADLs). And if our disabilities get in the way of having a career or even of obtaining an education, it is important to learn to see ourselves as valuable people even without such things.
Of course, this is distinct from learning to live with the feelings of missing activities one would very much enjoy doing, but can't or can't anymore. Knowing there is no “should” about having accomplishments (Aimlessness) and knowing there is no loss of identity in not having accomplished certain things/having the ability to accomplish things (Signlessness) are distinct from the grieving process associated with not being able to do something you love, that you long to do.
I'm sure there must be a Buddhist concept I'll eventually learn about regarding the grieving process around not being able to live the kind of life one longs to live. I've just been muddling along sometimes nursing a great sadness, sometimes mild anger, and sometimes acceptance; I've mostly managed to stop bargaining and stop being in denial about the loss of anything resembling my ideal life, but the sadness and occasional anger still haunt me when I'm not filled with that heart-centered qi feeling I described at the beginning of this blog.
Our teacher also briefly discussed the Middle Way
, the Buddhist concept of non-duality or of living mainly in the in-between, moderation, neither all Yin nor all Yang. He mentioned this in the context of the “third cure” from the title of a book by Peter Coyote which is a reference to a song lyric about a choice between two cures — one a very materialist and capitalist “cure” represented by “railroad gin” and the other a loving but somewhat nihilistic and escapist “cure” represented by “Texas medicine” (taken to be something like peyote). That is, that there is another way, not that of surrendering to the existing power structures in this world and not that of spending as much time away from this world as possible, but a way to find happiness in this world
, being both present and just in ones actions.