It's taken me a long time to get where I am now. That I'm even talking about this publicly is a testimony to how far I've come. I've always hated talking about myself. Even for the first fifty or so posts on this blog I danced around the subject. I don't want my story to be some touchy-feely feel-good tale about how gosh darned great everything is and how you can make it if you just try hard enough. It wasn't. It was as awful as it was beautiful, and if I've learned anything about my fellow man in the course of this it's that we tend to cherry-pick one or the other. I never looked for sympathy. What I write here, I write for myself. It's only public because it has to be--by admitting these things and broadcasting them over the internet, I eliminate the fear I have of them.
What's a koan, as the title suggests? It's a Japanese word. In Zen Buddhism it roughly translates to "riddle," a question such as "What is the sound of one hand clapping" transmitted from teacher to student that he or she then meditates on in order to further enlighten themselves. If my life has been anything to me, it has been a series of riddles: koans. It's what led me to Zen Buddhism, and it's why I practice it today. It's how I perceive the world. This practice has taken me far; far beyond what I expected or even thought possible just two years ago. Now I have come up against what may be, literally, the mother of all of them, and I find myself not quite overwhelmed, but nonetheless totally consumed by trying to figure out what it all means. It's not simple, nor is it easy to grasp. This process is one I've often struggled to explain to outsiders. My previous journey has come to an end, and a new one is beginning. Every time one of these cycles completes itself, the new one seems to build on the last. This is no different. This is far bigger than any one post or cycle could ever hope to cover. Look at this as a recurring theme in my next several arcs. For the first time on this blog, I'm going to take whoever reads this along with me as I go, rather than simply reporting back after the fact. What I know, you'll know too.
So, without further ado, let's begin.
What the essence of this koan boils down to is trust. Phrased in a question, I suppose it would be "Why don't I trust myself?" Nearly every problem in my life boils down to this. It's a belief that has shaped everything I see, and everything I do--good or bad. Every time I hesitate at a ledge or a wet rock, it's my lack of trust in myself that does me in, causes me to lose my footing and shrink back. Every time I want to speak, but can't; bungle a speech, blow off a chance to lead, it's that. Likewise, however, I must also acknowledge the powers of observation it has granted me. When you can't trust what you see, you naturally adapt by becoming very good at looking deeply. Looking deeply is of course the essence of Buddhism, and it was one of the main selling points way back when I first came to it. But there is also another layer to it--both sides--one that has for most of my life preventing me from seeing myself as well, and from understanding who I am. After all, when you can't trust yourself, you have a Matrix phenomenon on your hands. How do you know anything is real? When I turn my lens onto myself, all I see is blurry static. I've groped at answers here and there, but I don't really believe them--not on that deeper visceral level. Even here, to demonstrate how difficult this is for me, I'm writing this sentence nearly twenty minutes after I wrote the last one. It's a powerful wall between my interior and exterior space. But it's one that must be torn down if I am to fully recover.
There are always two layers of truth, and two dimensions. There is what we think and what we feel, and what then is rational and what is visceral. No one part can exist without the others. The tragedy is that we treat them as exclusive entities; a false dichotomy where none exists. I have some friends who believe all they do is think, in complete ignorance of their emotions. And I have some that only ever seem to feel, in complete violation of what they know. We need both in order to survive. Denial of any one part is just that--denial. It changes nothing about who we are. Psychologists use the term "dysfunction" to describe the result. It's accurate, but I think for my purposes here it's too detached, too clinical. I prefer simply to see it as suffering. Self-inflicted wounds hurt the most. We can't know the future or predict how complex things such as destinies will turn out, but the least we can do is stop hurting ourselves. This is my attempt to do just that.
I'm reaching the limit for what I consider to be a good length in a post. I'd be doing a disservice to you and me both if I wasn't thorough, so like before let this serve as an introduction to what will come next. I for one have always believed that things can get better if we're willing to believe they will. Our attitudes shape our perceptions and vice-versa. I don't believe that things must be either one or the other. That is a product of incomplete thinking, just as hopelessness is the product of incomplete feeling.
Now to figure out how.