We cannot say that we would have chosen much of what has happened this past year, but when things go well, we rarely stop to ask questions about our lives. A difficult situation, however, means we can see reality in a fresh way….
Zen speaks of “expressing a dream within a dream”, acknowledging that we never quite rid ourselves of delusion and confusion, yet we can be present and fundamentally kind. There is so much bounty, so many tangled and twining vines, as well as so much lostness. Practice isn’t abut escaping any of it. It is about putting our feet on the ground, feeling the moist grass, knowing the wet stream of tears on a cheek…and not wandering off, looking for something better. “Here is the place; here the Way unfolds”, Master Dogen wrote.
Summer asks that we not confuse enlightenment with distraction. Where there is a dream of intractable pain, Buddhas show up to be a salve to that suffering. They show up for you. They are not other than you. “Just as cages and snares are limitless, emancipation from them is limitless” Dogen also wrote.
In the stress and complexity of our lives, we may forget our deepest intentions. But when people come to the end of their lives and look back, the questions that they most often ask are not usually, “How much is in my bank account?” or “How many books did I write?” or “What did I build?” or the like. If you have the privilege of being with a person who is conscious at the time of his or her death, you find the questions such a person asks are very simple, “Did I love well?” “Did I live fully?” “Did I learn to let go?”
These simple questions go to the very center of spiritual life. When we consider loving well and living fully, we can see the ways our attachments and fears have limited us, and we can see the many opportunities for our hearts to open. Have we let ourselves love the people around us, our family, our community, the earth upon which we live? And, did we also learn to let go? Did we learn to live through the changes of life with grace, wisdom, and compassion? Have we learned to shift from the clinging mind to the joy of freedom?