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Remaining calm in the eye of the storm, still in touch with thoughts and feelings

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Numerous times, I have blogged about the benefits of non-attachment/ non-dualism to trial practice and to life itself. We can also call that Zero Limits /Ho’oponopono,  emptying/quieting the mind, and Wu/Mu.

Recently, for the first time I came across Chan Magazine, with a great passage in its latest issue (see links to many Chan Magazine back issues) about how non-attachment does not mean cutting ourselves off from our thoughts, feelings and humanity itself, which I traced back to the actual text of The Gateless Barrier by Robert Aitken Rōshi, who left his body this year:

“’For subtle realization, [says Wu-men], it is of the utmost importance that you cut off the mind-road.’ This is not an injunction to cut off thoughts. As Yasutani Haku’un Rōshi used to say, ‘It is probably possible to control the brain so that no thoughts arise, but that would be an inert state in which no creativity is possible.’ Wu-men’s point is that if you try to cut off thoughts and feelings you might be able to reach a dead space as Yasutani Rōshi suggests. Or, more likely, thoughts and feelings will defeat your efforts and come flooding through, and you’ll be desperately trying to plug the dyke. Such an endeavor brings only despair. Inevitably you notice you are thinking something as you sit there on your [meditation] cushions in zazen [also known as Zen]. Remember Mu at such a time; Notice and remember; notice and remember —- a very simple, yet very exacting, practice.”

The Gateless Barrier: The Wu-Men Kuan (Mumonkan) at 11-12 (North Point Press).

So long as we are in human bodies, it seems impossible to completely detach from our feelings, including fears, joy (who would want to detach from joy, but perhaps detaching from joy — or at least not attaching to it — is essential for detaching from sadness), and sadness. While in human bodies, we certainly cannot completely detach from fatigue, physical illness, and physical pain from injuries.

In such writings by Ram Dass as Grist for the Mill (1974), he speaks in terms of being aware of such challenging feelings as depression by being more of a neutral observer, for instance to say to ourselves when feeling depression: “I am observing depression” — and even to embrace the depression before sending it on its way — which can help deflate and eliminate the depression more quickly, as if to blow past us as if a sailboat in the ocean.

When we are feeling physical discomfort or physical pain, which can be rooted in psychological pain, we can also become more of a neutral observer. For instance, one evening many years ago, I ran around a running track for around fourteen miles, which was the farthest I had run up until that time. This having been a track with no cars to dodge and rarely others on it, I went into a partly meditative state with my eyes halfway open. As I felt any fatigue in my breathing and muscles, I shifted my experience of the fatigue towards the role of a neutral observer, with my mind detaching from my body; on one level I felt the fatigue, but on another level I was objectively observing it. It worked to keep me running, and at a decent pace.

Long ago, I used to wonder if I was not in sufficient touch with my humanity if I was able to deal calmly even in times of the seemingly most immediate danger, risk, hostility, and annoyance. Certainly, it does no good to become a ghostly shell of a humanoid. However, now always focusing on calmness in the eye of the storm, I know how very human and essential it is to be calm at all times.