Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Real Listening

 I just got off a video call with my new Zen Teacher - new to me; he's actually very experienced, started studying with Katagiri Roshi back in those hippie days when the only Teacher who didn't want to live in California was Katagiri.  Talks like this might be the best thing about Zen - at least with some teachers, you get to talk, real talk, and they listen. Really listen.

I've had many experiences by now with therapists and ministers whose job is to listen, who are paid to listen, but they can't do what an authentic Buddhist Teacher does.  They can't engage with you in the same way.  Good ones know how to settle into a listening mode and let the patient pour out their heart.  Generally, they want to shore you up a little, too.  Basically, you are their employer, and they want you to keep coming back.

Still, sometimes ministers and therapists do engage deeply, but that is still not Zen listening.  Zen Masters have spent decades seeing through their personal egos, learning to put their desires aside in the service of ritual, demanding retreat schedules, study, serious vows.  Their job is not to shore you up, but to encourage you to find your true self, which is not the self that drew up a bucket list.

I am coming up on the 16th anniversary of my surgery for breast cancer and my meditation practice.  That diagnosis led me to decide to begin meditating every day, and finding other ways to deal with my fear and the stress in my life. 

Most of that time my practice has been solitary.  But I have had the chance to work with three Teachers, the first two during the years when I could go on retreat, now a web-based Teacher.  It's in the private interviews with them, phone calls, emails, ongoing relationships, that I've been able to drop off some of the barnacles that made my shell feel really heavy. 

Zen is a rigorous path, distinguished by the policy that there is no charge for the teaching - you give what you want in gratitude - and by the insistence that you do the work.  They don't give you what you want, a dose of bliss, maybe Dad's approval, maybe an A in koan-busting.  Their job is to help you stay on your  path.  A big piece of how they do that is the spacious welcome of just looking at you, listening to you, being interested not in your bullshit or persona or gift to the building fund, but the you that is unique on this swiftly tilting planet, and the you that is true self, all of us.

Meanwhile, their authentic listening and caring gives you a model for how you could act with other people.  And being really seen and heard is fundamentally affirming and encouraging.  I don't care who you are, everyone needs a good tummy rub once in a while. Don't let them kid you.

No, he won't bite.  Probably.


  1. I'm confronting this idea----"not the self that drew up a bucket list" or, as Pema Chodron called it----not another "project"----but I lose "the point" of going on sometimes. . . To be really LISTENED TO is a rare luxury; how wonderful to have someone "to help you stay on your path."

    1. Thank you, Chris. This morning I felt - sort of thought - I give. I'm not going to get anything done. Just be. I keep remembering how it was some moment being on vacation in a cabin somewhere with nothing to do. Letting all these things drop off my back.