Friday, September 4, 2009

Being Authentic

In "After the laundry" a practitioner in the Phillipines, comments, "Sometimes, we don't want authentic, especially when we just want to relax." This came together for me with today's quote from Tricycle, by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche. I will copy here a fair amount of it so you don't get the wrong impression.
Wherever we are, whatever we're doing, what we need to acknowledge is something natural. Something uncontrived. The uncontrived state is actually very special. Being natural is very special. And the natural way is actually already with us, in or out of retreat, but we just don't acknowledge it. If you just acknowledge your natural way, that's enough, good enough. It's like the cow peeing in the field. It just stands there and pees. Every day, it just pees, quite naturally. That's really enough.

Ah, here we are, back to cows. I am descended from rural people in the American midwest, maybe there's something there, though I don't remember my ancestors owning cows. I like them, the way they smell, how they stand firmly and walk slowly. Sometimes even Sheba, our nervous cat, has the same walk when she is patrolling her territory. Simple purpose.

Peeing. The TV is full of it. Every night we like to watch the 6:30 news, a habit that marks us as very last century. The commercials are aimed at the old and aging: products for cholesterol and high blood pressure (cure them in one easy pill), loss of sex drive (bring romance into your life with one easy pill) and loss of bladder control. Some of the bladder commercials are aimed at men who have to leave the ball game at a crucial moment because they have to pee, again. Sometimes it's a woman clearly trying to make the restroom before she pees herself. I always hope that health consumers will make sure their doctors check them out before writing these prescriptions. These problems have many causes - sometimes the problem is caused by some other pill. The one you take to make you happy.

The above quote could have been said by the great Suzuki, who also liked homely metaphors, and said somewhere that the way to control your thoughts is the way you control your cows - give them a wide field to roam in. There, another way to be authentic - to let go of our containment and fences, our preferences and ideas about who we are or would like to be, our rigid strategies for self-protection. That takes us to "the idea of self" that Zen talks so much about. The easy way to let go of all that is to let go of our ideas about who we are.

The funniest things occur to me. Just now I am remembering the time my sister tried to get me to wear the colors that had been prescribed for her. That may sound very strange, but it was an important fad in the early eighties, following on a book titled Color Me Beautiful. You could use the book or go to a coach who would make you up a wallet of the colors and textures you should wear. My sister had gone to a coach, and felt it had changed her life. She was liberated from taupe and helped to remake herself as a prettier woman. She was firmly convinced that since we had similar coloring the prescription would work for me. That it was important that I do it. That she knew best for me. I knew she would be angry if I didn't agree to convert.

Does that sound familiar? Someone has a path that You have to try. A right way. Right for them, right for you, right for everyone.

On that occasion, as I look back, I just stood like a cow peeing in its field and refused. I don't know what I said, but I know I had no money for clothes just then. I remember feeling inarticulate, not knowing how to say that simple thing without seeming to criticize. My refusal did make my sister very angry, so I have sometimes looked back and thought, I should have just accepted the offer with thanks. But working through the karma on that, I'm afraid it would have meant being scrutinized on future occasions - was I following the path of Autumn coloring? Getting dressed for family occasions I would have worried about lipstick. Sometimes you can't win (there's a good Grandma saying).

More importantly, I liked to dress to express myself then - not to impress other people, not to be a pretty picture. My life had been about being accultured to be a visual object. I was in the rubble trying to make a different self out of myself, one that was not about being seen. If you look at that carefully, you see it is reactive. But these stances are not so different from our attempts to look like a good Buddhist or keep house like a Zen practitioner.

To be authentic is to not be very concerned with how you look. Whether you meet other people's approval. At the same time, it is not authentic to live in rebellion against other people's ideas. They are just ideas. Some people have a lot of them.

The authentic stands relaxed in the wide field of awareness and its responses come from inside, from a core that seems to me located somewhat above my bladder. Japanese Zen refers to this core as the "heart-mind," one unit. I try not to strive for it.


  1. I've looked around my apartment and wondered why I can't keep it as clean as I kept the temple. I even leave dishes in the sink. It was surprising to find that I was capable of such a temple sin!

    Good to read you today

  2. For me authentic is to be independent, not caught up by other peoples' opinions. That is freedom. That is also a description of enlightened (I hate that word!) practice, freedom from self/other. An artist likes to play with color, texture, form, and that does not end at the edge of a painting— it includes all of life from the colors and textures combined in cooking to the colors and textures of personal appearance. That's just as "authentic" as a monk or nun giving up hair and clothing for robes, and every bit as sacred. Black monk robes or an "autumn colored" outfit— it's all good, it's all the same. It's authentic because of our intention. Being concerned about appearances or not concerned— it's all the same. Authenticity is beyond.
    — Kris Shingo (realizing the heart-mind)