Beth Joshi Mulligan - Fall training period week 4
October 22, 2015 by David Blackwell
As I head into week five of the fall training period, I have a joyful heart. At least right at
this particular moment which is all I have anyway. (Regardless of what my shamelessly
busy mind thinks, it is totally convinced I have a future and tries endlessly to predict it-
but that is another story.)
This week, I am reflecting on the power and function of the training period schedule.
Tenshin Roshi likes to tell us about a conversation he had with his teacher Maezumi
Roshi many years ago, about a training period schedule. He told Maezumi Roshi that he
felt somewhat daunted facing the schedule with all he had on his plate. He was told
succinctly, “Let the schedule be your teacher”.
What did he mean by that? How can the schedule be my teacher, I wondered? No matter
where we are, we always have some schedule or other, even on vacation, we’re going to
have meals at certain times, try to do some activities at particular times. We have a work
schedule. We have our kid’s school schedule. So what is different about this schedule?
I think in part it comes down to what Roshi calls voluntary restriction. Life here is pretty
simple (if we let it be). There aren’t a lot of choices. We wake up; we go to the Buddha
Hall. We might decide to have a cup of coffee or tea first, but that’s about as complex as
it gets. We sit, we walk, we sit, we participate in the morning service, and then we have
breakfast. We eat what is served.
A good deal of our time is accounted for with formal or informal practice. I like that!
In my work outside the Zen Center, I have many complex decisions to make, choices that
may have great impact on other people’s health, and well being. I have financial
decisions and social decisions. Since I am mostly self-employed, I am constantly
assessing priorities also. Here, I have the opportunity to let this go for a while and as
Master Dogen says, “Take the backward Step and turn the light inward.”
Last week, I had a particularly challenging sit, as I was experiencing quite an intense
level of physical pain. It is a condition I have been dealing with since a surgery seven
years ago. Over these years, I have tried many strategies and healing modalities with
varying degrees of success. I have also had to accept that it is not going away, and find a
way to live peacefully with it. My practice has made this possible. But often when I am
having a really bad day like this one, I might use distraction, like television or staying
busy. The schedule asked me to sit with it. Of course I could have gotten up, gone to my
room and lay down or even, yes watch a movie. No one would have judged me, or
criticized me; they would just make sure I was OK. (I don’t watch TV or movies here by
the way, my choice). But I decided to “let the schedule be my teacher” and sit with it,
bringing curiosity to it. I let my attention go right into it without the usual low grade
resistance, or “techniques” such as, “maybe if I move just a little or try breathing our
really slowly, it will give me some relief”. I gave up on manipulating my experience.
Something in me said, “Joshi if you are ever going to really find peace and freedom, you
are going to find it right now, right here. It is not somewhere else”. And with this
determination, I stayed with it. And I did experience peace, which later gave me
confidence. The pain didn’t change, but my relationship, not just to it, but to reality,
changed. This was a deep taste of freedom.
When I shared this experience with Tenshin Roshi he said, “That is the function of the
schedule, it’s like the title of the Pema Chodron book;”The Wisdom of no Escape". The
schedule can offer us this wisdom if we fully embrace it.”