Excerpt from the upcoming book,
Gilding the Lily
By Douglas Ray
While I was in prison I remember an incident where I was thrown into the Hole. I was going to be there for a while, there was no getting around it. So I figured I may as well put the time to good use, mainly practicing zazen.
I had been sitting in zazen for about fifteen minutes and was just starting to settle in. A prisoner from another cell shouted over at me “Doug, how do you spell “possession”? He did this several times and finally, face slowly flushing, anger rising, I snapped and shouted back, “Can’t you tell I’m in here doing my spiritual practice, motherfucker!? There was sort of a dead silence all over the tier and then someone burst into laughter, followed by several others. I felt my face turn even redder as what had just happened slowly sunk in. It took a little longer for me to chuckle about it.
At that time I saw Zen practice as a battle between trying very hard to meditate and be peaceful, and dealing with all the annoying distractions around me. These distracting people and events simply had no interest in my spiritual well-being and peace of mind. As far as I was concerned, I was making a serious effort to change and those deluded S.O.B.s needed to get that through their heads!
While I may have given lip service to the teaching of “being in my experience,” in actual practice I wanted no part of it. Being with my experience did not hold a lot of interest for me. If truth be told, I was a lot more interested in changing my experience than being part of it. This is how most of us are. It is natural to feel this way and it is also natural to suffer because of it.
The distress I was experiencing did not come from the experience itself, but rather from my need for it to go away, to be different, to be more in line with my version of how life ought to be. And of course, life has no interest in my opinion concerning how it, “ought to be”. Life is simply the way it is.
That’s such an obvious statement, “Life is simply the way it is” It seems pretentious to even say it and yet if we don’t take that realization into our marrow of being, life will pretty much seem to be, as Shakespeare said, ‘A tale told by an idiot’.
So where does our responsibility to others and to our own well being part company? Is there a true divide? When are we neglecting our own lives, and perhaps theirs as well, by jumping in too quickly because of guilt or idealistic notions of, “how we ought to be”? How much is enough? Where do “I” end and “you” begin? What is our practice with this?
Are these even the right questions? I think so. We certainly cannot avoid our lives and continue to breathe, so why not practice our life, make our life our practice? We aren’t that busy, are we?