—An Interview with Genko Rainwater, Part Four—
>>> Part One: Shikantaza Meditation - Sitting, Practice, Techniques
Meditation How: I get what you mean about the barking dog scenario. However, I want to rephrase it and then check in with you for clarity— encountering the barking with wonder and innocence (and hence, appreciation) as opposed to allowing it to trigger assumption, unconscious mind-tripping, etc. Please tell me if I am getting this.
I had a similar experience growing up—with anything emotional being utterly discouraged. It has taken years to heal (and still healing). There is this common view of gurus or masters as being blissful 24-7. So we assume we must overcome so-called "negative" emotions. Do you have any experience with the devaluing of less comfortable feelings, and the belief that mastery will mean no longer having these?
Also, you speak of noticing the difference in various mind-states and observing the process with compassion. Do you find yourself able to navigate on just a feeling level towards compassion? What I mean to ask is if you can recognize deeper alignment without going into the mind? Are you able to move in that direction without interpreting?
Genko: As far as the barking dog goes— yes, I think that's a fair summary of what I'm getting at. And still, noticing when the assumptions, mind-tripping, etc. click in. For example, what does that process look like? What triggers it? What does it feel like?—and having compassion, curiosity, and acceptance in the face of that.
In regard to ongoing bliss—yes, I've learned to be careful with some of the especially Asian monks' teachings that seem to say we must simply get rid of these feelings, because that feeds right into habit patterns of destruction/denial of emotions. Over time, I see to what degree all of those teachings are true and how they are different from my habit energy. But at first, it looked the same. As I began to differentiate them, I began to see them as parallel tracks, right next to each other. The destructive rut is right next to this new pattern I'm trying to cultivate, and at the slightest provocation, I can slide right over into the old rut.
Again, notice. Notice how it feels, both the slide and recognizing the difference. At some point, I may get to that blissful state of not having any more negative emotions. Not there yet. Mostly what I find now is that I can have those emotions without necessarily believing them, without having to act on them or react to them. A little bit of equanimity, which simply involves acceptance, recognizing that they are like the weather— now it's sunny, but tomorrow it's supposed to get colder and rainy again. It's all just as it is.
You asked if I am able to navigate on a feeling level. I'm beginning to be able to. It was tricky, because the whole deal was learning about my feelings. First there were only two states: denial or overwhelmed with terror. I had to learn to sit still with the terror, find ways to avoid Shut-Down and allow it to be. I had to learn to cry and accept crying. I had to learn to accept anger, to say yes to all those "No. Don't Want!"—2-year-old tantrums and see what I could learn from them.
Not easy. Not always skillful. Keep sitting still. Take a break. Accept. Come back— a stubborn persistence in the face of sometimes overwhelming despair. It's not that the mind isn't involved at all, but that over time I came to see (with the help of my teachers) that it isn't the best tool for teaching me about emotions. In fact, sometimes it's a huge obstacle. That's where body meditation practice comes in, where just sitting still with pure awareness becomes extremely valuable. Not easy, of course, but increasingly important.
So, two things—one, as I mentioned, is that it is extremely helpful to work closely with a teacher, because they can both model acceptance, kindness and compassion, and also see more clearly what's happening and encourage movement in the positive direction. The second thing for me has been the use of Other Power—in my case, Kanzeon, or Avalokiteshvara, as the embodiment of compassion.
My first hearing of the Universal Gateway Chapter of the Lotus Sutra brought me to tears and I didn't know why. Now I think it has to do with the affirmation that there is a force in the universe that cares and has power to change one's life, one's mind. When I got the most overwhelmed and agitated, I would use a mala and do 108 repetitions of "Namu Kanzeon Bosatsu" (Hail to the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara). It would change my mind state enough to make it easier to get through whatever it was. Kanzeon is the statue on my altar. I think, for me, it is a visual and mental reminder of the kindness and compassion I find living here, that I can rely on.
>>> Part Five: Meditation Experiences - Teachers, Buddha, Bliss-States