You Are Perfect Just As You Are

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Sunday Lecture: Good father/not a good father; improv - looking foolish and still feeling good; being fully yourself - responsible and flexible; simplicity of practice; communication and identity and emotions; right thinking; routines and habits

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Good morning, and happy Father's Day. I was thinking of one Father's Day story, which is that, this was several weeks ago I was describing to my 18-year-old daughter, my sessions that I have with a body worker every Friday morning. And I was describing how lovely it is to see a body worker, and also that as she's working on me I'm just talking and telling her stories, and that the whole time I'm there she seems to be just laughing and laughing at my stories. And my daughter looked at me and said, Dad, just because she laughs at you does not mean you're funny. I was thinking of, I used to make a living as a quote collector, I ran a greeting card


so I thought I should share two of my favorite quotes. Which one is, if you think you're too small to be effective, you've never been in bed with a mosquito, which was one of our best-selling cards. And the second one is, be here now, be someplace else later. Is that so complicated? I think I should, since it's Father's Day, say a word about fathers. I was reading, there was a piece in, I think it was an editorial in yesterday's Times about that men really have it a lot harder than women. This was an article by a woman, a geneticist, who is saying that even from the time of conception,


there are many more miscarriages of male embryos than there are female embryos. And that once born, boys are slower to learn, their language skills are not as good, and they're prone to all kinds of diseases, I think three or four times prone to learning disabilities, and that teenage boys tend to commit suicide at a rate of three to four times that of women, of girls. The only statistic where men seem to have it better was that women seem to be report depression much more than men. But this is probably because men don't express their feelings. Actually, this was what was theorized. It was interesting on this topic of fathers and the influence of fathers, there's this


Berkeley sociologist, who probably many of you have read his works, George Lakoff. And he has this theory that the main reason why there is this huge split in this country of why liberals and progressives are on the other side of almost all the social issues, whether it's abortion or gun control or gay rights, why the country seems to be split. George Lakoff came up with this theory that it has to do primarily with fathers and family systems, that he describes that in one system where there is a dominating, domineering father, this makes for a culture where there's a sense of fear and keeping out what we don't know, and that it takes violence, it takes controlling women.


And the other model is the model of the nurturing family, where the father is not a dominant force but where the mother and father work together in raising the children. And I thought this was a really interesting theory. And then recently I heard Gloria Steinem, the founder of Ms. Magazine, she took this idea even further and said that she felt like this was, even though the US government and the Reagan administration take credit for the ending of the Cold War, she theorized and along with this group of scientists that it had to do with a change in the Soviet culture that the modern day Soviet leaders were the first leaders to not be beaten by their fathers, that the modern day leaders were brought up in much more nurturing families, whereas Stalin and many of the Soviet leaders, and if you go back in Russia and Germany and European


history, you'll see that fathers beating children was just a natural part of society. So this is, I know, a little bit of a strange introduction to this talk, but what I want to talk about today, and since it is Father's Day, is how we have courageous conversations. And actually there's two quotes by Suzuki Roshi that I want to talk about. One is that you are perfect just as you are and you could use a little improvement. You are perfect just as you are and you could use a little improvement. And the other quote, which I happened to as I was, I picked up Zen Mind Beginner's Mind as I was getting ready to come here, and I picked up and turned to the quote that


said, a father who thinks he is a good father is not a good father. A father who thinks he is a good father is not a good father. And what I want to talk about is how I think these are actually saying the same thing. I think that what Suzuki Roshi means by the second quote is, you are perfect just as you are. And this you are perfect just as you are and you could use a little improvement, I think we tend to mostly hear the second part. We mostly tend to think about the improvement part and easily skip right over that you are perfect just as you are part because it doesn't, it somehow, what does that mean? That's somewhat what I want to talk about, what I think that means. I was thinking an example of what I think that means comes from the world of improvisation.


I've recently been playing in the world of improv theater and I just find it to be so terrifying and fabulous and just goes so well I think with, not only with Zen practice but just being a human being in the world. There was a workshop that we did here at Green Gulch, I forget how long ago this was, probably at least six months ago. A man named Keith Johnstone who is kind of one of the real fathers of improv was here teaching a workshop and one of the things that he said is that if you take two improvisers and you say, okay you're both in a car, one of you is driving and the other is the passenger, now go, make a scene. And Keith said invariably within moments something will go wrong, either the steering wheel will come off or they'll get a flat tire but there'll be some reason why these two people can't


take this car forward into territory that they don't know, into something that's a little bit new where they'd actually have to create something. And then he pointed to ten Zen students who'd been practicing for quite some time and said, okay the ten of you stand up. The ten of you are now, you're in a forest, it's dark, go, make a scene. And in about ten seconds someone yelled out, my leg, I hurt my leg. And Keith just let out this huge howl saying, see, you just can't do it. You just can't not have something go wrong because if nothing went wrong and you're in the forest making up a story, you would have to move forward. You would have to move into some kind of unknown territory and actually use and trust your imagination and trust that you could come up with something that worked, that you don't


have to have something go wrong. So this to me is a, is the practice, an example of that you are, that you are perfect just as you are, means that you can actually trust yourself enough to move forward without doing things that you already know how to do. And I loved how Keith described improv, he said, when people, and I think, and this I think is so much in our lives as well, that people don't want to see you having it all together. He said in improv people aren't paying you good money to see you look good. They really want to see you look a little bit foolish, see you not quite have it together. He said that they don't want to see you then feel bad about yourself. They don't want to see you look foolish and feel bad. That what people want in improv is to see you look foolish and feel good about yourself.


And I think this is the you are perfect just as you are, that if we can develop the trust and solidness in ourselves enough so that we could actually open our hearts and uncrust our hearts and really be willing to be as foolish as we really are and feel good about it. This is what I think Suzuki Roshi means by you are perfect just as you are. And also I think what he means by a father who thinks he is a good father is not a good father because if you have some idea of what being a good father is, you're always acting in some idea as opposed to really making an effort, really making your best effort in each moment to fully be yourself. This would be my definition that I would give for today of what Zen practice is.


Zen practice is fully being yourself by developing a responsive and flexible mind and keeping your heart open in all situations. Developing a responsive and flexible mind. And this responsive and flexibility means both outward and inward. So responding and flexibility means being really responsive to the situations that we find ourselves in and responding and being flexible with the people that we're with. And responsiveness or flexibility inwardly means actually being open to change. Why is it that we are here? Why is it that we are practicing Zen if we are not opening ourselves up enough to change?


This change starts from that you are perfect just as you are change. That it's not about trying to be something that you're not. It's having the courage and practice to uncrust our hearts and to let go of the habits and ideas we have, being willing to be foolish, being willing to make mistakes and to feel good about it. I was in this same chapter in Zen Mind Beginner's Mind where Suzuki Roshi talks about a father who thinks he's a good father is not a good father is where he describes this somewhat famous description of the four horses. And he talks about the horse, the best horse is the horse that starts to move when it sees the shadow of the whip.


The second horse is the horse that moves when it hears the sound of the whip. The third horse moves when it feels the whip. But the fourth horse doesn't move until it feels the pain of the whip in the marrow of its bones. And Suzuki Roshi goes on to say, well of course we all want to be the first horse, right? We all want to be the best horse or if not the best then we want to be the second best. But he goes on to say this is not what Buddhist practice is. Buddhist practice, Zen practice is not about wanting to be smart or clever or to look good. It's about realizing that we are perfect just as we are in our own foolishness, in our own effort, in our own sincerity. And this is meditation practice, it can sometimes be a little embarrassing being a meditation


teacher because it's just so simple. It's just taking the time to just be yourself without and completely have a time in our lives when we're living beyond good and bad, beyond doing it right and wrong. So much of our lives, so much of our conversations are trying to look good, trying to protect something or do it right. And this was the great discovery of the original Buddha. Buddhism, which was founded 2,500 years ago, people often think is kind of dour and is about suffering. But Buddhism is really about how to be happy and how to find real happiness and real satisfaction.


It was the historical Buddha 2,500 years ago in India who said that the way towards finding real happiness is to see that there is no way to avoid suffering and pain, that there's no way to avoid looking foolish. There's no way to see that our hearts have been crusted over in some way and that our hearts get encrusted and us falling into habitual ways of thinking and doing things in the world is a natural part of being a human being. And that the way to change, the way to grow is to start from this, that you are perfect just as you are and that you can find true happiness and true satisfaction by finding ways to uncrust your heart. And meditation practice is really the practice of how we uncrust our hearts. It's this actual daily time and daily practice of just completely being ourselves without


trying to do anything. To be willing to just be there with our own bodies and breath, breath as completely simple and foolish as that might seem, and then to be able to take that completely into the world. And as you all know, this is much more difficult to actually do than it is to imagine or to talk about. I was thinking, so much of this practice, sometimes Zen practice can be described simply as sitting down and getting up. This is how simple this practice is and in a way this is how simple our lives are. That sitting down is the practice of doing nothing, of having the time when we can really


reflect, look inwardly, let go of all of the things that we're trying to be or do. And then getting up is how we take these things into our lives, into our relationships, into all of our conversations. One of the things that I've been studying this whole issue of conversations and there's three books that I've been studying. One is called Difficult Conversations, one is Nonviolent Communication, and another is called Fierce Conversations. These are all really good books, but it's reading these and then trying to actually put what we learn from these books in our lives is, it really takes this daily meditation practice, I think, to really be able to make these kinds of changes in the quality of our


conversations. For example, you might start to notice in your conversations that there's the content of your conversations, but then there's also the emotional part and there's also your identity. And so often, we just focus on the content of our conversations and pay very little attention to how much of our conversations and relationship is driven by how we feel and the identity that we have about ourselves and the identities of the people that we're with. You know, I've been, my day job these days is working with business leaders, doing coaching and consulting, and one of the things that I've noticed, and this is an example from the business world of where you see someone who's a manager or CEO of a company will come


before a group of their managers and the CEO will announce, we're going to do this, we're going to develop this product, and he's very excited and very forceful. And around the room at the table, if you could see, if there were like little bubbles coming out of people's heads about what they were feeling and thinking, what you'd see is, we're going down, or I've got to look for another job. And this is sometimes in the business world, there's a name for it, it's called the corporate nod. This is business people who, because of power relationships and because of habits, are not able to actually say what they're really feeling and thinking. And I wanted to describe, this is not only something in business, I wanted to describe a situation in my own life where I've noticed this, and this is one of those situations


where I rarely do I think that having sat in meditation every day for the past 30 years has made any difference. But in this one situation, it's an example of where I think it actually helped me have a little bit of space. This was a conversation that I was having with my wife, and I forget what the content was, but there was a way in which she was unhappy with me about something that I had done. This is not so unusual. It was either something that I had done or something that I didn't do, and she was unhappy. And she was really unhappy, and there was what I felt as this force coming towards me about her unhappiness and my responsibility for her unhappiness. And I had a real aha experience in this moment that I could see that my natural way of responding was I could see that my identity was involved,


that oh, I'm bad, I did something wrong, and I could see my emotions, that I didn't feel good, I felt angry, I felt shame. And this all happens in less than a second. It's pretty amazing if you start to pay attention to these things. And in this moment, instead of responding the way that I normally would respond, I just turned to her and said, what is it that you're needing? What is it that's not working for you? Could you tell me? And this so shifted the conversation that when I was able to move from protecting myself in some way and protecting my own sense of identity, and that I could create just a little bit of space to turn towards the person who was right in front of me and ask what she needed, this just completely changed the whole conversation. And this is something I want to recommend


that you experiment with this Father's Day, which is start noticing your conversations, these pieces, that there's not just the content, but there's the feelings and there's also the identity involved. And again, this was something very much that the Buddha, this was partly what the Buddha taught 2,500 years ago, and these new books, they should all be sued for plagiarism. They're all taking the Buddha's words, all these ideas about conversations. One of the Buddha's teachings that I want to talk just for a few minutes about, which is very much related to this subject of that you are perfect just as you are, is it's the second of the eightfold path. The Buddha, when he had this experience of


awakening and found out that there was a way to move from suffering towards happiness and deep satisfaction, he developed this path, what was called the eightfold path. And I'm going to talk a little bit about the second. So the eightfold path is there's right view, there's right intention or right thinking, mindfulness, speech, action, livelihood, diligence and concentration. So the Buddha said that if you spend your focus and time practicing these eight practices, that this is the path towards living a fully happy, satisfied, engaged life. This is the path towards moving from a life of suffering, from a life of greed,


hate and delusion to finding real awakening and real satisfaction. And the second, it's sometimes called right thinking and it's sometimes called right intention. And the reason for that is that our thinking is composed of two parts. There's the thought that comes up, and then there's how we direct the thought and what we do with this thought. This is this practice of right thinking or right intention. And there are four questions that the Buddha suggested that we work with in these teachings. And the first is this question, what am I sure of? What in my own thinking, in my own intention, am I sure of? And this gets back


to that practice of being able to let go of our ideas because when we start to ask this question about what we're sure of, we can see that what we're sure of is actually very little, that we make all these assumptions and then build upon these assumptions. For example, we're all sure that today is June 18th, 2006. We can be sure of this, but this is completely a convention, completely a made up idea about time. And we're sure that we're sure in the Green Gulch Zendo in Muir Beach, California. Again, these are ideas and conceptions, just as the ideas and conceptions we have about who we are and what our identities are and how we then act on these ideas and fight wars over these ideas.


And the second question about this right thinking is, what am I really doing? What am I really doing? And again, this is just this one, you know, this is a lifetime practice. This isn't a question that we answer, but it's a way to look at what is it that motivates us? Are we motivated primarily by fear and grasping? Are we, have we devoted our lives to carving out some kind of a safe haven for ourselves? Or are we motivated by our own awakening and really helping others? Are we motivated by living in a sense of vow of being authentic and being completely ourselves? Or are we motivated by trying to be a good father? Whereas, as Suzuki Roshi says, a father who thinks he is a good father is not a good father.


So how can we let go of these ideas about what we might be sure about, about what it means to be a good father and open and uncrust our hearts and find new ways to listen, which mean, again, going back to my original story about, you know, this, it's like we're, it's like we're all lost together in a forest. And how can we find new ways, new stories, not the old stories? Because we know, we know that the old stories don't work. The old stories seem to cause things like wars and global warming and, and greed, hate and delusion. So on every level, the old stories don't work. So how can we ask ourselves deeply this question of what am I sure of and what am I really doing? The third question is, is this thinking a habit? And again, if we look, if we look carefully,


we'll find how much of our own thinking and movement in the world is habitual. No, and habits are very different than routines. Routines are something that I would, I think are something that it's really important to develop really good routines. Like there's a, there's a quote from the 14th, 14th century poet, Persian poet Rumi, who said, I don't know if you've heard of it, we all, we all have routines. All human beings have routines. We might as well form routines that mint gold. We might as well form routines that mint gold. And routines can be ways of breaking habits. No, and so many things, so many things, you know, you'll notice that children just love routines. And if you can create, you know, routines like reading before you go to bed, or what I'm talking about are routines like saying


a little prayer or chant or before you eat a meal, or a routine like sitting meditation first thing in the morning or the last thing that you do before you go to bed. These are examples of wholesome routines. And again, habits, habits are, habits tend to be more ways, you know, you can have wholesome habits or unwholesome habits, but they tend to not be very conscious. And routines tend to be things that can be much more conscious in our lives. And the fourth, the fourth question in this practice of right thinking or right intention is the question, does this, does this thinking lead towards awakening? Does this thinking lead towards awakening? You know, protecting ourselves or playing it safe or ideas, you know, ideas of, of greed and anger generally are not, not ways that lead


towards awakening unless we can turn towards our greed and turn towards our anger and get to really know it. So it's not, this is not putting on rose-colored glasses and pretending that our own, our own identities, our own greed, our own difficult emotions, it's not pretending that these things don't exist. In fact, just the opposite, it's turning, very much taking it up as a practice to completely become intimate with our, with our own thinking and our own intentions. So I want to, I want to encourage all of us today to, to practice with this that you are perfect just as you are and you, and we could all use a little improvement, but to recognize that everyone around us, particularly everyone around us is perfect


just as they are and to please take this, this day and make it into something more than a commercial day of Father's Day and make it into a day of practicing appreciation and really letting the people around us know how much we appreciate them and how much, why is it, why is it so difficult to have courageous conversations around things like appreciation and love? I mean, it's one thing, I understand, you know, it can be difficult to have courageous conversations about, you know, why is it that we tolerate things like war and violence? Why aren't we all talking about that? But where it starts, I think, is with the courageous conversations with each other about why are we, why aren't we loving and appreciating


each other more? How can we bring that more into our lives? I want to end with this, what I think of as a, today it will be a Father's Day poem. This is a poem by, again, I assume many of you have probably heard this. It's a poem called Everything is Waiting for You. And I've heard, I heard David White, he talked at, it was a Zen Center sponsored event a few months ago in which he spoke about this poem called Everything is Waiting for You. And he said that people were surprised by the title of this poem because they thought it had kind of an optimistic ring to it. And then he said, actually, what it means is everything is waiting for you, including your own demise.


Your great mistake is to act the drama as if you were alone, as if life were a progressive and cunning crime with no witness to the tiny hidden transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny the intimacy of your surroundings. Surely even you at times have felt the grand array, the swelling presence and the chorus crowding out your solo voice. You must note the way the soap dish enables you or the window latch grants you freedom. Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity. The stairs are your mentor of things to come. The doors have always been there to frighten you and invite you. And the tiny speaker in the phone is your dream ladder to divinity. Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into the conversation. The kettle is singing even as it pours you a drink. The cooking pots


have left their arrogant aloofness and seen the good in you at last. All the birds and creatures of the world are unutterably themselves. Everything is waiting for you. So even the cooking pots see that you are perfect just as you are. Thank you very much and have a wonderful day.