Let Go, Turn Around, Return Home

I can’t remember enjoying an autumn as much as I have this one. The golden light, the cool freshness of the air, the daily colourful progress of liquid ambers on our street, trees we’d actually never fully taken cognizance of before. The virtue of relative confinement has meant coming to appreciate the vividness of the local geography, what is right here. And not just outdoors. Being at home most of the time has brought further into focus the geography of everyday life–the simple beauty of eating a pear, having a conversation, blowing my nose. There never was any need to go anywhere else. Realising this is the virtue of practice. The storehouse of treasures opens of itself, writes Dogen. You may take them and use them as you wish.

And I’ve been appreciating zazen as a liberating confinement whose forms hold me present. A prescribed sitting posture. The form of the physical body, its characteristics not discriminated in zazen but just here, solid as a mountain. The form of breath, its rhythmic movement, life-giving inhalations and warm exhalations. The form of an embracing, uncompromising question, unique to the Zen tradition. Within the limitations of form, thanks to the limitations of form, and asthe limitations of form, limitless essential freedom can be discovered. You realise you are just you, exactly enough, whole right here.

But you need to stay with zazen, until it opens of itself, and then more. When your restless mind wants to travel out with ideas–looking to sustain itself, fantasizing that better place, that better self–you do well to remember Dogen’s counsel. Put aside the intellectual practice of searching for phrases and chasing after words. Take the backward step and turn the light inward.Let go. Turn around. Return home. There never was anywhere else.

Linji has counsel too, these being among the most instructive words in the Zen canon. If wherever you are, you take the role of host, then whatever spot you stand in will be a true one. Then whatever circumstances surround you, they can never pull you awry.Simple. The great welcoming, everything gathered in. What is there to pull you awry?

And, from another perspective, what is the host’s responsibility? How is the gift extended? What about beings who are pulled awry? Ravaged by suffering, change and loss. These days, with all we know, the dictum “think global, act local” has a new charge.

In an old sesshin notebook I came across a gift from the irrepressible Ellen Davison, friend and teacher at the Kuan Yin Meditation Centre in Lismore. A line from her teisho. “This moment can never be used up. I think that’s wonderful!” I bow in appreciation.

Encouraging Words: Written by Maggie Gluek, roshi, Published in June/July Newsletter 2020