‘Zen practice came into my life in December 2015 when I nervously attended a beginners session at Stonewater run by Suigen. It then took me five months to get to the point where I had to take up sitting as a fully integrated part of my routine. I had no choice – there was no routine, and I was living no kind of life.
In May of this year, after a decade of a slowly unravelling and unmanageable madness, I finally hit rock bottom. I was at a point of defeat in my attempts to control the world, or my place and feelings within it. I was crippled by an inner turmoil, the manifestations of which I could no longer even try to keep a lid on, let alone disguise, comprehend or understand. My actions had caused terrible damage to a beautiful person I loved dearly and upon whom I had grown completely dependent for my emotional wellbeing. She had no choice but to disappear and I was left totally bereft and broken. For years, I had been hurting everyone around me as a way of harming myself and expressing the pain, chaos and misery that lurked permanently in the shadows of my shattered small self. By that point things had got so bad, that I was free to change absolutely everything about how I was living my life. I did not want to harm anyone I loved ever again, and had become willing to find any solution to make sure that I worked myself out and so would not have to.
The same week I came back to sit at Stonewater, I attended three meetings of 12-step fellowships, seeing that sobriety was vital to me getting some clarity towards what was happening in my life. I found I was instantly gifted the strength to quit my long-standing addictive dependency on cigarettes, marijuana, alcohol and drugs. My gigantic, self-destructive ego had been defeated enough to finally follow the advice of a kind and wise psychotherapist, and I sought help for my out-of-control approach to women, sex and relationships as a panacea for my ills. I resolved to discover what was happening beneath the mask I felt I had been forced to create just to exist in an world that I had been relentlessly shocked and terrified by. I admitted defeat and surrendered.
At one of my first sessions at SWZ, The Buddha looked straight through the pupils of my eyes and showed me how to gaze deeply and compassionately within. Listening and sharing at weekly fellowship meetings taught me how to communicate, and to know that others were able to tolerate and accept their feelings and turmoil without having to resort to sex or drugs to blot them out. My therapist provided me with the mirror to reflect on my thoughts that I was lacking, and the lamp to illuminate the dark recesses of my psyche that I was blind to. Every week, sensei’s dharma talks and interviews seemed almost tailor-made for what I was going through. Sitting regularly through my pain, grief and loss, I slowly began to live again.
Zen practice has been one of the pillars upon which I have started to build myself a new life free of shortcuts. It provides me with the simple rules and tools I needed to learn how to be at ease in my body and mind, and to accept the natural flow of the Universe as being perfect, and not something I have to grasp at or control, to deceive or micromanage. I am now healthier than I have ever been. Even my posture is getting better. I am rewarded by helping at beginners sessions to give back what was freely given to me. I am rebuilding the relationship with the wonderful daughter I almost totally lost, and her mother, instead of being a bitter adversary, is now a trusted friend. I am finally studying at University to make the most of the gift of the great intellect I had grown afraid of putting to productive use. This week, I started the first decent job I have had in years so I can better help others, and to contribute to a world I had become accustomed to only taking from. The warm, friendly members of the sangha remind me of the importance of keeping good, healthy company. The 12-step program is helping me understand my defects of character so I don’t have to act on them. At the same time it is removing my destructive fears and resentments, whilst showing me how I might make amends for the damage that I left in my wake. Eventually, I hope to be able to give up my stories and to let go absolutely.
The zen way can be very difficult, but I’m glad that on the cushion there is nowhere to hide. I can watch the ongoing tangle of my thoughts and emotions so I can better label them and pick them apart. I discover how to breathe, sit and walk. I can also pray and ask for resolution to what I cannot manage, and atone for my evil karma daily. I have had moments of great clarity, serenity and spaciousness in the last six months, and the change in my being has been palpable to others around me. However, daily life can still be desperately painful without the joyous highs I used to get from being with my loving partner, or the distraction provided by my chemical crutches. The simplicity I have right now more often than not feels like aching loneliness, but I know that in facing life on its own terms I am finally heading in the right direction, and things will continue to improve.
Now, after seven months solid practice, I have gained a growing reverence for the great Mind, the Buddha, Tao, Higher Power, God, or whatever label may be given to the ever-present formless field of Benefaction I have glimpsed behind the veil of this material reality. I prostrate myself in full bows of awe, respect and amazement at the nature of the flow of things, and the knowledge that I am an integral piece of it. I give thanks for being a small part of the greater life, and I look forward for what it has in store for me in 2017 and beyond, and also to what I may do to be of better service to it.’