Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Wholehearted Way

Henri - exemplar of the half-hearted way
I think one of the reasons people find going home for Christmas stressful is that we care what those people think of us - our parents, brothers, sisters, the clan.  On the other hand, it's good to see old friends.  One good Thanksgiving weekend home, long ago, I went with my friend Cheryl to hear a local band she liked in one of those dinky bars, the kind with wood floors.

The band was good, especially the lead singer, who was had that easy blond charm.  At one point he got to riffing on a song about going home for Thanksgiving, and sang (you have to imagine the driving rhythm)
sittin' around with the relatives drinking coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee!
Everyone laughed and cheered.  Of course, everyone was now comfortably drinking their favorite CNS depressant, while still jazzed up by all the coffee.

Looking at the singer, I thought, He doesn't have any trouble going home. He doesn't care what they think of him.  He's okay with himself, he's a performer, a confident sort of guy.  He digs seeing his cousins and sister.

Of course, you never know.  His parents probably weren't perfect.  Maybe his father said pointedly, "Your little brother got admitted to law school."  Maybe his mother asked him, "How is that . . . girl you were living with?" and they just broke up.  Maybe he read chronic criticism into these things - after all, he was "just" a starving artist, not a big name, and getting older and all they care about (he thinks) is money.  They have never appreciated his talent (he thinks).  Maybe it made him want to climb the walls.  Or pour something in his coffee.  When will they realize I'm a grown up?

His mother, on the other hand, wondered, "What do I do wrong?"  That's a good question if you're using it to stand back with some detachment and ask yourself whether you hurt someone, but sometimes it's just a way of picking on yourself.  "What did I do right" can be more useful.

Yesterday in my sitting group we started talking about the most difficult aspect of Zen - how do you act when you're not meditating.  Nancy I (we have two Nancys) pointed out the interesting distinction Dosho Port makes in his list, "Practicing the Path of Zen Like A Long-Distance Train" (you can find it here).  He quotes Katagiri Roshi:
Mindfulness is nice but practicing enlightenment is about wholeheartedness.
Later I recalled an example of wholehearted action in one of Daniel Terragno's talks (which I wish someone were videotaping or recording and transcribing).  He said, "When you get an urge for a Big Mac, and you decide to have one, don't spend the whole time saying to yourself, I shouldn't be eating this crap. This is disgusting.  Just eat it.  Enjoy it."  That's the way to eat.  Step off the mind road and dig right in.

Visiting the folks over Christmas can be done in the same spirit:  dig right in.  Be completely there.  Sing along.  Before you go, do a little ritual in which you push resentments, historical inequities, discomforts into the closet with those hungry ghosts who think Christmas is about what you get, and shut the door firmly. Enter the dance.  Give yourself.

To get you in the spirit, here is my holiday gift to you - my all-time favorite rendition of the Hallelujah Chorus.  I especially enjoy the last shot, the shy wave from the teacher who must have worked many hours to include every last sentient being in the little community in this project, including the shy kid who doesn't wave, the pilot of the puddlejumper, and those happy, useful dogs.


  1. " 'What did I do right' can be more useful." YES! Thanks for all of this, Jeanne!

  2. AWESOME video! I'm late...but I'm here! Be there...completely...always. yes- I need to remember this and this is good timing.

    1. Hi Connie - Thanks for reminding me of this film. It's the best example of creative giving I know of - the teacher doing the thing he was uniquely in place to do, helping everyone else give.
      I wish you peace and joy in the coming calendar year. (Just read something about how the new year really starts in spring, with which I agree.)