back to basics

Lately I’ve been struggling a bit with boundaries. It often seems to me that the limits we place on faith or life or God are far too small, that in reality there are no limits at all. Even while I acknowledge that a complete lack of limits and boundaries leads to a faith that lacks grounding, my own experience tells me that I and we usually err on the side of boundaries that are too rigid and too fixed. And so I push. I push against the limitations I see in myself, in the world, in the Church, etc. I’ve never met a line I didn’t like putting my toe across. This kind of mischievousness is a gift, and one I’m learning to embrace more and more. And, like most gifts, it carries with it liabilities.

One such liability, to which I’ve already alluded, is that boundaries and limitations are helpful to the degree that they create a container for my experience. They provide a context in which to come to know more truly who I am and who God is, even as my sense of those two identities grows ever larger. If I’m always discarding boundaries, then sooner or later I find myself alone in the wilderness with no markers for my path.

As I’ve been pushing against my own boundaries and structures lately, and as they’ve been pushing against me, I’ve also, paradoxically, found myself drawn back to the basics of practice. I have just begun rereading a book I first read in seminary by Charlotte Joko Beck called Everyday Zen. It’s an extremely down-to-earth (i.e., grounded) explication of Zen teaching, rooted in contemporary American life. Beck makes the point that our lives are our practice. Often we long for quiet isolation so that we can find enlightenment. The search for enlightenment, she says, is the same trap as the search for wealth or power or fame–just one other goodie to make me feel better. Rather, the messier our lives are, the better for our practice.

You start where you are, live your own life, really inhabit your experience. If you’re angry, be angry. If you’re sad, be sad. Or, as Thich Nhat Hanh has said, wash the dishes as if you were bathing the baby Jesus. Each tiny moment is itself the fullness of the mystery. Each tiny moment is already perfect, complete, and whole. I only begin to see that wholeness, to know it, when I can sink in and welcome everything.

So, right now I’m back to breath, inhaling and exhaling, noticing how my feet feel on the ground, listening to the traffic on the street, living the life I’ve been given.

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3 Replies to “back to basics”

  1. Wonderful book! I found Everyday Zen at a yard sale several years ago, have read it two or three times, and my battered and underlined copy still provides insight. So glad to see that it is another book we share.


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