Today, Todo Institute founder Gregg Krech gave the dharma talk. The Matron had no idea that there was a guest teacher in the house and once the meditation part was over and the topic announced?
She was annoyed. It IS possible to sit peevishly on a meditation cushion.
You see, Krech is an expert on Naikan, the Buddhist practice of relentless self-reflection and scrutiny.
This was the Matron's Internal Response: More navel-gazing! People. Plus, she is a therapy affeciando. The occassional six-week counseling session? A spa! Long-term theraputic relationships for the Young Miss? Life-saving!
And this was the kind of mood she was in. Before arriving at Clouds in the Water, she had this exchange with her husband.
John: "Why are we rushing? Doesn't it start at 9:30?"
Matron (in a purposely very pleasant voice): "Now, why would you think this started at 9:30 when we've been going there all fall at 9 am?"
Stryker: "Mom, I hate it when you do that."
Stryker: "Talk down to Dad like that."
This exchange -- the conversation and the observation -- was a little burr on the Matron's skin. She wasn't very interested in reflecting on that burr at the Zen Center.
So Krech jumps right in by noting that our bodies soften as we age -- sometimes, so do minds. We might fight this, but there is no winning that battle. But our hearts? Our hearts both harden and soften--and frequently, the heart hardens more. As we age, tolerance shrinks. Belief systems become rigid and certain. The heart has been beaten up and locks that gate.
He asked us to consider our own hard heart--the heart that blames, shames, destroys, or reduces. He wondered if everyone in the room softened their hearts toward all beings, just a little, if we would operate differently during our day.
Krech described his Naikan training which involvled several one week retreats, during which he reflected on his relationships and his life for 100 hours a week. One moves year by year, starting with the first memory and person by person.
Here are the three question Naikan requires you to ask of each year, of each person.
1. What did I receive from this person (in this year)?
2. What did I give this person (in this year)?
3. What problems and difficulties did I cause this person (in this year)?
Is it possible, wondered Krech, to still be annoyed at your spouse for forgetting the dry cleaning or burning the dinner, when you're fully aware of what he/she has given you and the problems you've handed them, in return?
He challenged the sangha to start asking those three questions as part of a daily practice: mother, father, husband, wife, son, daughter, aunt, uncle, friend, colleague. What did I receive? Give? Problems and difficulties that I presented?
At this point, the Matron's heart was pure puddle and she had taken that burr and put it firmly in the palm of her hand, seeing how frequently she could be mean and demeaning. It wasn't pretty, but real.
Then, Krech addressed something that had long bothered the Matron in her role as Therapy Queen Bee. You see, even though she has had adequate theraputic oiling, she has not been much of a forgiver. The Matron's life includes some unpleasant stuff and if she is accountable for her part, then others are accountable (responsible!) for theirs. She can't get past that accountability/responsibility thing and that's where she stops, unable to forgive or, alas, forget.
Krech explained that he is not much of a fan of what psychology considers 'forgiving.'
Indeed, Krech said that much 'forgiving' done in the name of therapy seems to be done from a position of superiority. The 'forgiver' has done the hard work and knows better than the person being forgiven. The 'forgiver' has 'moved on.' And isn't that better? The 'forgiver' has largesse and benevolance, the 'forgiven' left forever with the taint of crime.
Krech said it better but that sentiment resonated with the Matron. Then he told a long Buddhist story, from oh, like the year 500, which she won't repeat here. But the upshot was that instead of forgiving someone for their crime against you--or the simple mistake--you understand this as the 'thing' that person gave you.
When someone gives you something, you say thank you.
In this paradigm, gratitude is the end game instead of forgiveness. Because even when someone hands us something bad, a raw deal--injustice, pain, ignorance, anger, intolerance, disinterest, disdain--we get that raw deal and frequently, from that muck grows something different.
If you're living an examined, reflective life--a life with a softening heart--the raw deal can serve as a catalyst for new self-analysis, sharper vision. The more fully you embrace what others hae given you, bad and good?
Soft, soft heart.
So the Matron left the Zen Center about one million times humbler and more patient than when she arrived. Much to consider. Like all people, the Matron has been given much throughout a middle-aged life. Lots of goodies, some sticklers, and a few real stink bombs.
She has to consider how she carries these gifts, good and bad, even now. And who to thank for them.
Friends, she hopes she's set you on a bit of a journey yourselves - three questions can keep you busy for a lifetime.