Being Uncomfortable

Audio loading...

Welcome! You can log in or create an account to save favorites, edit keywords, transcripts, and more.

This talk will not appear in the main Search results:

Sunday Lecture: What do we do when we become uncomfortable?; comfort - in body, mind, relationships - are focus of our consumerism; suffering = constant need to be fed; entertainment keeps us busy so we won't feel threatened; story of his stroke - hospital room-mate died; how much can I bear to be without?

AI Summary: 



I am totally astonished how many people are here today because of the weather. Also, the scheduled speaker was Foo Schrader for today, so if you came to hear Foo, I'm sorry. She has a case of laryngitis and so she asked me, or they asked me if I would sit in her stead. Now before I say anything more, I'd like to ask if we could spend a little time just sitting here. For one thing, it gives me a little time to collect my thoughts, but also just to just to sit together for a little while. I guess we could do this for the whole period. It'd be very interesting to


sometime come in and just do that, and not say anything about it, but just sit here and see how long it takes before we become uncomfortable. Not only uncomfortable in our bodies, but uncomfortable with the situation. Since we all come here with the context in mind that we're going to hear a talk, we came here in a context that for a while you would sit in silence and face the wall and practice asana, or sit on a chair in silence, and watch the coming and going of your mind and your breath. So there's already a comfort zone, a space zone, you know what's going to happen. But if we sat here for a long while and nothing seemed to happen, even though many of you or even most of you


are already experienced practitioners in some sense, facing this this question of what do we do when we become uncomfortable? That's the koan of our life. What do we do when we become uncomfortable? Well, we know what we do when we become uncomfortable, we try to get comfortable. And we know that in this world of fleeting phenomena, thoughts, feelings, perceptions, our bodies, the very world itself and its flux and change, we'll see to it that sooner or later, and probably sooner rather than later, we will become uncomfortable again. And so we're always trying to, now excuse me friends, I'm going to use the collective we. I can say I or you or one, and if this doesn't apply to you, just let it go.


But notice as we speak, or as we sat there, rather than the object of our attention, rather than what I'm saying or what was happening, what are our reactions to that situation? Because the theme today is not so much who is the I that is experiencing, although that becomes an ultimate question, as the experiential or the even existential question of how do I make myself comfortable in a world that is always changing and threatening to my comfort, to what I consider to be my comfort. And of course, I don't have to remind you that we sit in, we are all in a sense, elite class of people who have the time and leisure to even begin to look at this question. I don't think our forbearers, that is those who in many


of the millions, billions in the world today have the leisure to even address that question, just trying to get enough food to survive, just the bare essentials of survival is all that one is interested in. But we live in a consumer society, in a collective culture in which comfort becomes one of the preeminent, if not the preeminent, selling points. How to make our space, our bodies, our very minds, our relationships more and more acceptable and comfortable for us. We even say to each other, I'm not comfortable with that feeling, I'm not comfortable with this. We sit on our cushions, or on our chairs, for certain periods of time, and sooner or later we realize that


this most, this first level of material entanglement, the body, is not happy, and it wants to move. There's a pain somewhere. I'm not even talking about the reactions to our thoughts and so on, we'll get to that, but just the very bottom line of our bodies themselves, after a certain point, want to move, we're programmed to move, programmed for survival. We have a limbic system that's going to fight or flight, or reproduce, or do something, but it's not so happy just sitting still. It needs to be fed. In fact, we could say that our suffering, the whole suffering in the world, is the constant need to be fed. Feed me, feed me, says life. Not only my body, my mind, my sense of security. Just look at the body itself.


Not only do we have to feed it, but as we sit quietly, trying to enjoy the silence and the tranquility that can or may not arise with our sitting practice, we can feel our stomachs grumble after a while. We begin to speculate on what we're going to have for dinner. It's raining outside, did I bring my umbrella? Constantly referring back to what will help us feel safe and assured and comfortable in whatever situation we find ourselves. One of the reasons I wanted to sit here for a while, and thought it would be a very interesting experience if I could be comfortable enough with the experiment of seeing how long we could sit before we become restless and wondering, is he ever going to say anything? I came here to hear something. I came here to be, I won't say entertained, but certainly to receive something.


I'm looking for something. I want to be fed something. This is how we're built. I'm not even looking at this question of who it is or what it is that thinks it needs to be fed, but just the basic thing of sitting still and feeling this tension of needing something else, some other posture, position, thing, since everything is in motion, to be in motion with that. And of course, in our society, if we can keep the hits or the rushes, the entertainment factor coming fast enough, maybe we won't ever have to sit still long enough to feel threatened. But sooner or later, we know what's going to happen. Sooner or later, we're going to be threatened. Our place that we live, somebody or something is always moving into the neighborhood, have you noticed?


Some plague, some virus, some people, some thing is threatening your space and mine. I'm not here necessarily to advocate a particular ascetic position in the world, or that we should all become wandering monks, give up our homes, our relationships, gather together our begging bowls and go about in the world doing that. It's not a feasible proposition for most of us who have to make a living in the world, raise children and so forth, have work to do. This has always been the question, a fundamental question. What do we do when we become threatened and uncomfortable? Well, there was a response, or has been since time out of mind, the response that a certain group of people would do what we have heard as an archetype of that, drop out.


Even drop off in the most secure position you could possibly have. We're the prince of the world and everything is given to us and it isn't enough because if nothing else, I'm going to lose everything that I love and I'm going to lose my life. That seems to be what's happening around me and that scares me so much that I'm going to leave it right now and see if there's an alternative to that. This is the story of Shakyamuni, of course. This is the story of all of us leaving home, home in the sense of that place where we feel secure, non-threatened. But the wolf is at the door, the magazine doesn't come, the boss fires you, the husband or wife runs away with someone else, you get sick. I don't want to be morbid here because this is getting back to fundamentals. Before we can begin to talk about the release from this whole ceremony of pain and avoidance, we have to really become acquainted with it and we are rudely brought up against that edge.


I mean, the world after all, this flesh feels very soft and vulnerable compared to what seems to be a hard and unyielding surface, in spite of what the physicists tell us about everything being in motion and empty. How am I going to deal with that? Well, recently I had a first-hand experience, I don't want to get too personal, but I want to tell you. One day, feeling right in the midst of my life, all at once my whole left side began to go dead. First my face began to go, then my hand, then my leg. And I thought, well, oh God, this is it. But, obviously it isn't, because here I am, but I managed to drag myself to the door, because one side was working, I thought, well, this is what it is to have a stroke. It felt like the whole side of my life was suffering from a huge shot of Novocaine. There was no pain, it was just numbness.


But another part of my life was intensely alert and working very, very hard to keep this thing going, drag yourself to the door, get someone, get some help. It would be very unpleasant for my wife, Arlene, to come home and find me on the floor. So, if it's possible, maybe I should just go out and lie down in the street and somebody will find me. Everybody was in the zendo sitting, zazen, because it was during a practice period, it was during what we call the seishin, the extended. And my wife was acting head cook as a tenzo, and there was nobody around. What was I going to do? It was right there in my face. There was no question about Nargajuna and the philosophy of emptiness. That was gone. There was only the question of what is, am I going to survive, and if I am going to survive, am I going to be, you know. And I'm no Ram Dass, how am I going to survive that, you know.


So that was preeminent, right up there, right there in my face. Went to the hospital, and of course, I was lucky, they got the right drugs into me, and modern medicine, and so on. Or luck, or the good will and fortune of other people's vibes coming my way as a healing force, and so on. All of that perhaps, or even undoubtedly contributed to my eventual welfare. But while I was in the hospital, I got another reminder. There was a man who came in at the same time, even a bit younger than I am, maybe late 60s, early 70s. With a backache, came in with a backache, with his wife. Brought him to emergency, was really giving him a lot of trouble. He had taken a spill evidently. During the week, and now he was suffering from some kind of back problem that was giving him severe pain. And anyway, he was in the hospital overnight. And they x-rayed him and so on, and as they were bringing him upstairs, he died.


He had an aneurysm, abdominal aneurysm, and boom. By the time they brought him into the room next to me, his wife was screaming, Oh my God, oh my God, this cannot be happening. He was just talking to me. And now there's a class, what do they call it? Code 5. Everybody's rushing in to resuscitate this life that is leaving this man's body. And the wife is screaming, crying, wailing, lamentation. And I thought to myself, yeah, to this end must we come. I'm not comfortable with this at all. I'm not able to sit there and do Zazen with it. In fact, the tears begin to pour down my face. For this sympathetic response, even though they close off, you know, the section between us, we can hear what's going on. We can hear them trying and trying and trying, and finally they're giving up.


And we can hear the wife with the chaplain talking. And then the chaplain leaves. And she's alone with him, who was alive just a little while ago, she can't believe it. She knows, we know objectively this is going to happen, but it has happened, and now what? She picks up the telephone and calls her children. Daddy just died, you can hear the daughter on the other side screaming. Oh no, no, no. Well, we all have these experiences. We all have people in our lives and experiences like this. We know what this is. The old monks who gave up the world and so on, realizing the vulnerability of the body. That's why they sat in charnel grounds. That's why they meditated on themselves turning into a bag of decaying garbage. Saw themselves as skeletons. Tried to break or tried to realize the unpleasantness, the lack of comfort it is to


this body that we pampered, that we've taken such good care of. Whose image we have been fascinated by throughout our lives and have tried to dress according to some mode of proper or even handsome presentation. And so forth. All the time and expense and energy that we put into this mortal flesh in order to keep preserving it, even cutting away some of it so we can continue to look young. A nip here and a tuck there. Run our 20 miles a day. Eat the right foods. But in the end... The question then becomes, Well, how much can I bear to be without? That becomes a question for a meditator.


Maybe when we try to put off these questions for years and years, and we keep the rushes coming, the pleasure coming, try to keep all the gaps filled. And when we're not filling them up with music or drugs or sex. And by the way, what do lovers do now that smoking is taboo after they've had sex? Anyway, something keeps filling us up with fulfillment. That we exist in some fundamental way or other. And we become hip to that whole question. What do we do? Where do we start cutting back? You know, Diogenes the Cynic said, I possess not in order not to be possessed. That's what the monks do. They possess not, so they're not possessed by their possessions. But we still have this body. We still have this mind that is susceptible to sensations. And then, of course, we have our philosophies and our religions.


And our idealisms to protect us. And that becomes another field. How much of that can we hold on to? And for how long? We become much more susceptible the longer we sit to our vulnerability into this world. Or at least we begin to question, what is it now? That is afraid. Is there something other than fear? Is there something other than our vulnerability? Is there something other than our lamentation? Our loss? Our pleasure? Is there an ongoing being that is suffering this? Or is this it? How long can we sit still before we have to move the mind and the body? That's one of the things we practice with, you see, when we sit our zazen. Particularly long, extended sittings, is that we give ourselves a chance


to watch the mind and the body go through all of its changes. From the most absorbed, rapturous state in which all of this begins to disappear, to coming back down, to feeling all the physical pain and the attendant or concomitant mental anguish that goes with it. I don't know why I'm doing this anymore. This is stupid. This is a waste of time. We become threatened by doubt and restlessness. We need something else, but we're willing to sit with our restlessness. How much do I need? How long can I sit here? Is there a person sitting here that's not changing? And so forth, you see. We've learned to deal with our pain. What is pain? And when we sit long enough, we can actually begin to see if pain...


What is it that hurts? Where is it? We learn all sorts of strategies and techniques to deal with it. One of which is just to breathe into the pain. To make friends with the pain. It's no fun being painful. Pleasure is brief, but pain seems to last. People say you can have orgasm if you're lucky for a minute, but your toothache will last a month. If those are the two extremes, I'm not saying they are. How much land does a man need? Ask Tolstoy in one of his famous stories. Do you know that story? Well, I'm going to tell it to you. I can tell it briefly. It's a very interesting story. Leo Tolstoy wrote it in Russia. Great novelist. In his later life, this wonderful person,


this wonderful novelist, War and Peace, Anna Karenina, had actual conversion experience in which one night, while he was an aristocrat, he was out selling part of his estate. It was a business deal. He was already famous as an author. And he lay in bed and suddenly thought, I'm going to die. None of this means anything, he said. It sat on my chest, breathing into my face. Death was there. He jumped up. He paced the hallway. He was tormented from that moment on in his life that nothing he did, nothing would save him from extinction. Or any of the things that he valued. Fame, fortune, his estates, his ideas of freeing the serfs. Whatever program he had seemed to be obliterated. It was like overnight, his life changed. And he began to, as it were, get religion. Or that is to say, begin to open himself to looking for answers. Anyway, in his later life, he began to write a lot of parables and stories


in which he addressed this very question. How do we get comfortable? Or how much do we need? And in this story, there's a peasant who's freed from being a serf and becomes a peasant and accumulates, you know, he has a house and a shop and a yard. But after a while, he gets enough money, he can buy a cow and maybe a pasture to put the cow in. And he becomes a kind of really small kuluk, a little landowner. But still threatened because other people's cows break into his property and he can't keep it fenced properly. So he thought, if I just had a little more, a little more land. And he bought up a little more land around. But something was always, always threatening the borders of it. There was always a problem. The more he had, the more problems he seemed to get. So he thought, I haven't quite got enough yet. And there's a kind of, what do you say, what was it, an ad?


But it was, they were giving away, it was like a land grant or it was like a free land that people could have that the government in a certain part of Russia was, or a certain tribe in Russia was, was maybe Mongolia or that part, offering free land for anybody who wanted it. But there was stipulation. You could have as much land as you could walk it across in one day. From sunup to sundown, the proviso being you had to be back to the starting place at sundown for it to be valid. Otherwise the deal was off. You didn't get anything. So of course our hero starts walking, you see. And he walks and he walks, and at first he's feeling good. It's morning, he's really set off, he's in pretty good shape. And he thinks, you know, I can probably, he's calculating, how broad his possession can be. How much land can he get?


And he had these grandiose ideas about how many cows, oh, herds of cows, chickens, ducks. He could really become somebody in the world if he could just get more land. And he does. By noon he's covered a great deal of territory. But he thinks, and he looks back at this hillside he left, 20 miles or whatever it is back. He says, how long is it going to take me to get back there? It's apparently flat land, you see. The steps. But he calculates that if he goes a little faster, a little harder, he can get x number of more miles, whatever the unit of measurement was. Anyway, to make a longer story shorter, he of course keeps going and going and going, and trying to include more and more, and as he does so he's getting more and more exhausted. Now he sees that the sun is beginning to set, so he has to hurry to get back to this place. So he begins to try to run. But now he's so exhausted that he can hardly move. But he's, and the platform, or not the platform, the hill,


the even small mountain from which he started, he gets to at the bottom just as the sun begins, has the beginning to descend behind the hill. But he sees that on top of the hill, because it is higher up and the sun is still shining, so he puts his last bit of energy and rushes to the top. And of course falls dead of a heart attack. The moral of the story. And Tolstoy's last line in the book is, for Ivan Petrovich, or whatever his name was, six feet from his head to his feet was all the land he needed. Everybody can understand that parable, that story, but, you know, do we actually live from that disposition? How much land do we need? How many possessions do we need? How much security does a monastery need? How much security does an individual need? Most of us are not wandering mendicant monks. We begin to, even after Tassajara, you see,


when you go down there as an individual, so we may form relationships. Pretty soon we're not living with one pack in a box of books anymore. We're setting up housekeeping again with somebody. And once more the world goes around as the parameters spread out. Or, maybe we do live an acidic life, but we still have an attachment, a neat connection to that person, place or thing. We used to say there's a story at Tassajara that we like to tell. It's a Zen story. I don't remember exactly. Maybe Steve or somebody can tell me later where it came from. The monk goes to the teacher and he says, I'm interested in the benefits of practicing. Something like that. He said, well, just stay here and practice and you will find out what the benefits are.


Suppose I don't want to stay and I leave. What are the benefits then? Do I still have benefits? Oh yes, there are still benefits. But what are they? Hot in the summer and cold in the winter. Hot in the summer and cold in the winter. And another story, when you get hot, says the teacher, get so hot you die. When you get cold, get so cold you die. That is, give up clinging to the idea of hot. Give up clinging to the idea of cold. Still in Tassajara in the summer, we hold our work meetings in the shade. And in the winter when there's not much sun, we hold our work meetings in the sun, naturally. That's what we do. We look for the comfort zone. Of course, there are those ascetic junkies who actually like to flagellate themselves and so on, but that's another form of pleasure for them. Or the adrenaline junkie, the one who's always putting himself or herself in danger,


going to the dangerous spots to feel alive, to feel some intensity in their life. But after a while, sitting on that, you know, just sitting still in a chair, or in your house, or just sitting still, period, you will find there's plenty of intensity coming and going. And sometimes even the most intense boredom. Or intense pleasure. Or intense pain. Hot and cold running pleasure and pain. We call all of these sense appetites, you know, in Zen we first of all start with form. According to Buddha, there's really only the five aggregates that make up what we call a self. Form, which we're talking about the body,


and the reaction to that form, which are feelings and sensations. How do we defend it? How do we take care of it? How do we get maximum pleasure and avoid minimum pain? How do I feed myself? What do I feed myself? Incidentally, food is a very interesting thing in our culture, isn't it? In any culture it is, but in our culture we are real food faddists. We want the best, certain kinds, we have our own diets that we stick to. As soon as we begin to starve, anything will feed us. Even bugs. Stuff we can't imagine eating we'll eat. Even one another. When it gets down to that. And it isn't the food, the protein and so on, that we're eating to keep alive. It's the characteristics of the food. It's the taste of it. The sweet, the sour, the bitter, the neutral. It's all the characteristics in our life that we're looking for. And the preferences that we build up around them, isn't it?


Isn't that so? We begin to look for these things. I can't eat that, I will eat that. I'm not saying we don't have allergies, or we shouldn't watch our diet and so on, but because we are a privileged people, because we're exploiting the world for all it's worth to feed us these comforts. How much land do we need? What kind of food do we need? I'm guilty. I'm not talking about you. I'm watching my own preferences. The Tenzo serves a certain thing, like here's one of mine. They like to serve whipped cream here that has no sugar in it. Now for me, who was brought up in the Midwest, whipped cream and sugar, at least powdered sugar, were one thing. You put, whipped cream is sweet, you put that on your dessert. I grew up with that tendency. I looked for that characteristic, and when it isn't there, I said, what kind of place is this


that serves whipped cream without sugar? And I can extrapolate from that and look at that kind of example all the way through my life. Dressing, you know, the house, the place I choose to live in. I don't have to tell you that in our society we can have one room and pretty soon that room seems to actually grow things. Things. And pretty soon we have to get rid of our things and more things come. We're constantly exchanging things. A society of surplus. Imagine that. And of course, I can remember my grandmother and so on, you know, they came from the old country, Germany.


They talk about, you know, the times when they had to pull the plow. And they sacrificed themselves in the world right after going through the industrial revolution they had for a hundred years. And the things were beginning to become more and more plentiful. Everybody could have their own house on the hill. My grandmother said, you have your own house on the hill. Become somebody, be imposing in the world. They sacrificed so we could have that. We get it and we're not happy with it. Begins to feel like a prison for us after a while, after a certain amount. Begins a problem. Somebody asked the late Trungpa Rinpoche, the only reason you're talking about these things to us is because we're already this, what should I say, disenchanted with material wealth, a lot of us. But would you be saying this in a country of poverty? And he said, no, in countries of poverty I wouldn't be talking about this.


They're working hard to buy a bicycle on the way to being able to make money to buy a car. On the way to, you know, get what you've already got. The whole world is trying to do that. A lot, a big portion of it. Sell their souls to have more comfort, a place of security in an insecure world. So did our ancestors. So this question about how we sit and how we deal with our comfort zone is a very important question. Sometimes the only way we can deal with our pain and the things we're going to lose in the world, the inevitability of our mortality is to finally just give up and sit down and face it right now. Feel it right now. Feel those parameters. Let the fear come. Let the anxiety arise. Make friends with what we really are. What is really happening to us. What seems to be apparently really happening


in an apparent world that apparently is hard and aggressive, full of war and strife. So we gather places like this to try to reaffirm what we have known since time out of mind about all of this and how to deal with it. So we develop strategies, practices, philosophies. But, sooner or later, one little cushion is all the land you need. One wall, one cushion, maybe not even a roof. Just a place to sit in the sun. How is it that some of the poorest people seem to be the happiest? Just to have a little patch of sunlight. I remember walking out of the Zindo


in the wintertime of Tosahara. It's so cold and there's no heat in those days in the Zindo. The sun wouldn't even begin to come through the trees until about 10 o'clock in the morning or 11 maybe. It's been hours since you've seen any light. You're walking out of the Zindo and the first rays of spring light are coming through and landing on the platform, the ongawa outside of it. And you put your foot in it. Your bare foot in it. You feel that sun. You feel that pleasure. Nothing. It's nothing. It's a little patch of sun but your foot steps in it. How good it feels. How grateful you are for just a little heat. You don't need a hope just to have that. We find these limits. Our ever-changing limits of what seems acceptable to us. What fulfills us. We begin to appreciate our life more. Scarcity in a sense, particularly for we who have so much, scarcity begins to help us to appreciate it


if we've been practicing with that. And now, you know, finally I'll just end up with a little haiku by Basho. You know, Basho was a famous Japanese haiku, short-form haiku poet of the late 17th century. And it's about this, how much comfort about our craving for some other way of being. And he said, even in Kyoto, now Kyoto, if anybody's been there, you know, it's a heart of the culture and it's beautiful and it's a wonderful place to be. Even in Kyoto, I long for Kyoto. Even in Kyoto, I long for Kyoto. Even in New York, I long for New York. Even in San Francisco,


I long. Something is always there to crave, to reach for. Nothing wrong with that. I'm not, you know, we're not not trying to set a limit, but just to be aware of that. Where is that line? What is that craving of ours? That is our suffering. Never quite satisfied for long. As long as there's somebody to be satisfied and dissatisfied, until that phantom or that ego or that being disappears, we will suffer. That is the teaching. As long as we're craving for satisfaction. And so, of course, we work very hard to find out what that really means. And for some people, there is a dropping through into the other side, into the bottomless bottom. And they become free of all of this ceremony that we have been practicing


since time out of mind. The whole business. But for most of us, even for all the practice we do and so on, that may never happen. And we have to be content and learn to work with what we have. Stuck as we feel we are sometimes. Have that kind of humility, that kind of patience, you see. The bell rings, go back and do it. The alarm rings, get up and go to work. Time to brush your teeth. Do the next thing. And I think finally, oh, I got something. Oh, yeah, Shelley. Shelley, I wrote it all. Shelley, I can't remember the poem. Maybe you know the poem. But anyway, the verse I remember from my college days. We look before and after and pine for what is not. We look before and after and pine for what is not. Our sincerest laughter


with some pain is fraught. Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought. Oh, sounds like home. Sounds like me. This world, the movie of our life in this world is a wonderful place to have a real crying baby. It helps to cry. We don't escape the pains of the world by avoiding them. We weep with it. Enlightenment is not Suzuki Roshi once cried out. I'm told. Steve might verify this too. Even enlightenment won't save you now. Just die to yourself. Imagine that, you see.


Then maybe we can be in the living.