No creature ever falls short of its own completion. Wherever it stands it does not fail to cover the ground. Dogen Zenji
I recently heard this quoted during a talk on sesshin at Crosby a few weeks ago. It caught my attention immediately with its profound depth and wisdom. I would like to share with you what it means to me.
As I contemplated this koan I began to feel a sense of peace and relief extending through my body and mind. This felt like a process of gradual relaxation accompanied by a feeling of gladness. The koan was telling me that everyone in the world, including me, is fundamentally okay, just as we are right now. There is nothing lacking or missing, there is nothing required or to be got rid of. As we stand we are perfect, whole and complete – we just don’t realize it.
If you are anything like me then you spend a fair bit of your time berating yourself for perceived failures and shortcomings. I don’t have enough money, time, fitness, health, clothes, friends, confidence, skills, control ……………. the list goes on ad infinitum. The strange thing about this tendency is that, no matter how much I accumulate in any one of the above mentioned categories, the goal posts seem to shift. I can be temporarily satisfied with a new achievement or gain, even elated and high. However, it’s only a matter of a short space of time before the old feeling of discontent creeps back in, often more pernicious than it was prior to the latest acquisition or goal was arrived at.
I have often asked myself why I put myself under this kind of pressure and stress. In times of clarity I can see exactly what I am doing and move beyond it. By this I mean I see the tendency for what it is. I don’t need to get rid of it, it’s harmless. When I can see right through it then I can see it has no power at all, it’s just like a dream. When it’s running full pelt, it’s a different situation. I’m blinded by my own addiction to the story. I remind myself of a two year old stamping her feet and insisting on things being my way. The purpose of this propensity is usually an attempt to gain some ground in terms of: impressing my friends, attempting to cheat the inevitability of my own demise, excelling in some way and standing out from the crowd or getting more love. Occasionally, it’s all of the above at the same time.
This type of grasping at pre-conceived ideas about how things ought to be in order for my life to be ‘working’ or ‘a success’ costs me greatly in terms of my wellbeing. More specifically, clinging to notions about how I ought to be causes me a great deal of suffering. Inevitably, I miss the mark. It’s as if I perceive something in my very essence that renders me wrong, and no amount of striving or self correcting can ever overcome it. Through my work as a therapist I understand that this appears to be the human condition and it’s not personal or unique to me. Yet even with the best will in the world, I am still subject to it.
As though this predicament were not complicated enough, I became aware of a second layer to the problem. As well as wanting more control I also discovered a wanting to be out of control. This was not immediately obvious but I saw in spite of wanting to: shape up, be more productive, gain financial independence, increase my fitness levels etc. etc., there was a tendency for me to actually do the opposite. I noticed I would start off full of high intentions and great plans for reform only to fall at the first hurdle, throw my hands in the air and give up. From here I would usually adopt victim mentality and abdicate all responsibility for my plight. Yet the repetitive nature of this cycle persists and the common denominator is me. So therefore, I concluded that I must be creating this push pull with myself. Believing I want to change in a certain direction and then unwittingly sabotaging my best efforts.
It became clear to me that a part of me rebels against the conditions of worth that I place on myself. That part insists on being accepted and loved for who I am without adapting myself to fit cultural or self imposed demands. This subverted voice does not know how to make itself heard and thus far, has only been able to express itself through sabotage. An example of how it operates is when I criticise myself for not speaking more in the group and make a decision to speak next time. Then next time comes and I don’t speak. My mind accuses me of being passive and apathetic and demands I should speak. Another part of my mind rebels against this inner judge and demands that I don’t speak. With these opposing forces working their energy I am often left feeling exhausted or in need of a drink to relax. This internal conflict between two warring factions does not make for a peaceful or fulfilled existence.
When I heard the title koan by Dogen there was a relaxing throughout. For a while I ceased to cling and grasp at those notions and stories of how: I, they, it – ought/ought not to be. A willingness to consider the possibility that underneath the concocted ideals and demands there is perfection – in everyone and everything – and that includes me. So therefore, there was nothing to strive for or toward, and nothing to get rid of. I could take my foot of the imaginary accelerator and just be. The moving in and out of this state is intriguing. There’s no point in me trying to kid myself I won’t end up there again. All I can do is have an intention to remain aware of when I again find myself wrestling with imaginary tigers, allow and accept it, and have an intention to let it go just as soon as I am able. In my experience, sometimes the letting go is easy and sometimes the clinging is more stubborn and requires a little more patience. To fight with it or make it wrong would just present me with another tiger to fight with. When I see it from this perspective then even in a state of clinging and self-torment I never fail to cover the ground I stand on. Therefore, I am enough, sufficient, worthy, perfect. I am always enough, even when I do myself or others around me in big time. If I can get off of my own back in a small way, then I see it as one step closer toward getting off of my own back in a big way. I believe this is the way to go in order to experience true happiness and compassion for myself and others, and I am grateful to Dogen Zenji for his wise and wonderful contribution toward me seeing this.
Suzanne Tsuko Adey