Last weekend, at a Zen retreat that smells of eucalyptus -- in honor of a dear friend's mother, who recently passed -- I sit all day on a blue zafu, and try to quiet my mind.
The silence is punctuated by two lectures from the master teacher, who sits on an elevated platform, wearing blue and gray robes and sipping tea from a dragon-shaped mug. (And who, I later learn, was the source of some controversy a few years ago, when he discovered a dead body in Golden Gate park, and rather than alert the police, chose to sit and meditate with it.)
The first lecture is on "perfect wisdom."
This, so the teaching goes, is about living in accordance with a given ideal -- generosity, for example -- without clinging to the idea of being a giver or being a receiver; and without "abiding in" the act of giving itself. (This is where the Buddhist center gets its name: "No Abode.")
Imagining what it might look like to cling to the identity of "giver," into my mind pops the image of a martyr -- someone whose story sounds like, "I give and I give and I give, and I never get anything in return."
From there, it is easy to imagine different types of suffering to go along with different types of clinging to an idea, identity, or act.
From there, I consider the role that story plays in allowing these attachments to solidify over time.
Which brings me to the thought: that it's not just negative or self-defeatingstories that cause us to suffer...
But that storytelling itself -- as in, our compulsive need to make sense of experience through language -- prevents us from experiencinglife in the present moment.
... Although this is not the first time I've considered story in this light,
It may be the first time I wonder if I've devoted my career to something that is fundamentally at odds with the pursuit of enlightenment.
Just think of the last time something cool happened, and you thought: "I can't WAIT to tell my friends/ lover/ parents about this!"
Whatever happened is still unfolding; and yet we can't help but immediately start transcribing it into language, the bluntest of tools, for the sake of some imagined future audience.
Which makes you think: At the end of the day, for all their power and promise, stories are just another human construction. And while the practice of conscious storytelling may be essential for getting your dreams realized;
It is equally vital to practice surrender -- to let go of the need to make sense, to cast off what we've created, to recognize that it's all an illusion -- and to simply experience being alive.
This week, I invite you to forget all your stories -- past and present and future -- and storytelling in general.
Just leave them off to the side, for now.
See if -- in the remaining days and weeks of summer -- you can find the space between that relentless drive to make meaning.
See if -- while watching the waves break, or gazing at a friend across the table -- you can let their presence wash over you, and savor what if feels like... just to be.