Have you ever heard a bell, unstruck
Begin to sofly ring?
She walked into Gym II, worse luck
And my heart began to sing.
With apologies to my wife, I wrote that poem about an event that took place nearly 30 years ago.
At the beginning of a relationship like that, when there is a mutual sense of “This is the one!”, it is very difficult for each side to envision anything other than a rosy future, and so an unconscious expectation is formed, leading in most cases to disappointment.
This disappointment, doubtless familiar to most readers of this blog, is akin to a bereavement -- there is a natural healing process beginning with shock/denial, then anger, et cetera. Incidentally, this grieving process also seems to follow the primitive reflex hierarchy, beginning with the fear paralysis response (which corresponds to shock/withdrawal/denial) and progressing through the Moro reflex (which corresponds to anger). For a first hand account of what happens when the Moro reflex shows itself in raw form, breaking a person out of fear paralysis, read Michael T’s courageous post “Breaking Point” on his blog One Foot in Front of the Other.
By the spring of 1984, when I received the shock of disappointed in love, I was already very fixed in my sitting-zen practice -- straightening the neck bones, pulling the chin back and down, et cetera. My response to what felt like a great loss was to fix even more, pushing my spine to lengthen more and more by narrowing my back.
When I next met my former girlfriend, on a trip back to England in the autumn of 1985 she told me, and I remember her exact words: “I am not getting at you, Mike. But what has happened to your back? You used to have such a beautiful broad back.”
My response to hearing this, in typical hardcore Zen style, was to bloody well do something about it. I started doing press-ups all the time, believing that widening of the back, and therefore possibly my former love, were things that I might get back by trying. Before long I was doing a hundred press-ups straight off for fun. Bloody idiot.
At that time, I could only see one face of the pyramid of sitting in lotus dropping off body and mind -- the doing face. I was almost totally blind to the other side -- the not doing face, the thinking face, the truly smiling face.
The truly smiling face does not mean a mind that hasn’t got the joke masked by a stage smile. (On the contrary, it might mean a mind that sees the joke, smiling behind a grumpy frown.)
On his blog One Foot in Front of the Other, Michael is sharing with us his experience of what may be the greatest loss of all. But we are all suffering lesser disappointments all the time.
How can we bring about the cessation of the suffering of disappointed expectations?
We can’t. A lot of the sporting contests that we enjoy, when you think about it, involve building up unreal expectations in each other (“He’s going to give me a low blow” “He’s going to return the ball to my backhand side”) and then confounding those expectations (“Whoops, copped one on the nut;” “There the ball goes down the forehand line”...).
Now then: is it possible to suffer such losses without losing freedom, but with an inner smile? Is it possible to suffer a loss and within that disappointment to fix not more but less?
In many cases, probably not. But 20 years ago I could not frame this challenge in the terms in which I now can frame it -- in terms of the dynamic inter-relation between body parts, beginning with the head being fixed down into or released up out from the body. I don’t feel confident now that I can meet the challenge well, but I do at least begin to see it in these real terms. It is like being given a constant supply of exciting new peaks to climb, from rolling green hills to great snow-capped mountains -- except this adventure is on the inside.
The ability to sit in the lotus posture smiling inside and breathe out fully, while keeping going not only a lengthening direction but also a widening direction, is a rare and wonderful gift. It is a wonderful gift to be able to give to oneself and a wonderful gift to be able to give to others. What follows from it may be something truly inspiring.
You may not understand right now what the hell I am talking about, but if you stick with me, I promise you will. Because I am pointing you to something that is not un-real. The Buddha-mind-seal that this dream-hero has re-discovered is something very real.
How to go about transmitting it, however, is more of a mystery to me than ever. I continued to expect -- against a mounting pile of evidence -- that I would be endowed with a certain position, a certain status, to help me in my task. But my expectation was disappointed. It turns out that I am not going to be as important, after all, as I was led to believe I was going to be.
That doesn’t change the importance of what I re-discovered, but it may mean that I will finally have to get down off my high horse. Bugger!
In any event, please don’t be discouraged if my answers continue to appear to be confrontational or dismissive. Recently those comments that I don’t value, I don’t publish. If I publish your question or comment, it is because I value it. So by all means be disappointed, but please don’t be discouraged.
Are there any questions?