by Edward Espe Brown
“What are we doing here?” I’ve often wondered.
How will I ever get somewhere?
Getting somewhere has quite an allure to it. As
the places we could get to are imaginary destinations
free of blemishes and wrinkles, or hey, like the new
car advertisements: no traffic jams and always a place
to park right in front of where we are headed — without
even having to parallel-park.
There are schools and religions, practices and
programs that have helped “thousands of people.”
Do what we tell you, and you will find yourself in
a better place. Perhaps you will, perhaps you have.
Yet new destinations beckon or possibly “bucket
lists.” You thought that Bikram Yoga was great,
what about Pilates?
One day in the midst of my Zen Training — yes, becoming
more settled, better concentrated, more energetically
focused, and certainly more imperturbable — I heard
Suzuki Roshi mention a curious point: “If practicing
Zen is not connecting you more deeply with your inner
life, then go find something that does.”
What! I thought Zen practice was leading me to a better
destination. My inner life? Who are we kidding? Walled-off,
under construction, possibly a crime scene surrounded by
yellow tape. Lie low, follow the program, keep your head
down — and do not go digging around. In my Zen life I had
pretty much avoided going inside as much as possible: Isn’t
that where everything hurts, where I’m lucky to get out
Later that day I was able to speak with Roshi, and I told
him, “Roshi, I’m not sure whether Zen practice is connecting
me with my inner life or not. What shall I do?”
“Continue to practice,” he said, “and you will find out.”
This is such a pivotal point: are we here to get somewhere else?
Somewhere else better than here? Or are we here to connect
more deeply with our inner life? And to discover where that
inner life wishes to go? What it wishes to do?
In one of Rumi’s poems he says, “Don’t go where you think
you want to go. Ask the way to the spring.”
The spring I would say is that world of our inner life, and
yes, sometimes a bit of groundwork is needed to shore it up
and have it run clear and refreshing.
The Zen Master Nyogen Senzaki said, “Don’t put another head
over your own head.” There’s another Rumi poem that goes a step
further, and suggests that: “Your head is the ladder. Bring it down
under your feet.”