As most of you know, last week I was out in San Diego visiting with Joko. It will be her 80th birthday next week, and I'm happy to report that she seems to be in great shape, mentally and physically. We all owe her the greatest thanks for teaching the way she has all these years, and continuing to do so long after most people think only of their own retirement. Obviously we are all able to be sitting together the way we are today because of her efforts.
If you're wondering what zen teachers talk about when they get together, I can tell you that she told me all about some friends took her to see THE ENGLISH PATIENT, and how much she HATED it! Not because it was a badly made movie, of course, - it's a very well made movie with a very distorted picture of romantic love, and conveys the message that ANYTHING is worth sacrificing for that sort of love, a husband, family, loyalty to one's country.... Love like that, from a practice perspective, is totally self-centered. Which isn't to say we can't enjoy for others reasons - that would be like banning ROMEO & JULIET because it glamorizes teen suicide, and ignoring the poetry. But we are all conditioned by images of what we think true love should be, and often spend much of our lives lost in a fantasy, "If only....." Or we think that's what love should be, but despair of ever having it, and think that we are forever "settling" or compromising with our real life partners.
Real practice means being willing to stay in this moment of life as it is, without falling into hope or expectation on the one hand or despair on the other. And that inevitably means being able to tolerate enormous uncertainly about where our lives are headed, simply responding as unselfishly as we know how to the requirements of this moment. In establishing a group like this, it is easy for us to feel those sorts of pulls from both hope or despair. Maybe we have a fantasy of the group getting larger and larger, and one day moving into a grand impressive loft space. Or on the other hand, after a year of this, maybe all of you will decide you have better things to do with your Saturday mornings and the group will fade away. I have no idea, I can't predict the future.
A more immediate kind of problem arises every time we have to move the furniture in and out of this room so John can continue to use this space as his office two days a week. It would be easy to feel this that's a great inconvenience and that it would be much nicer if we didn't have to do all that for him week after week. And in fact, I don't have to. I hold the lease on the office, which happens to be coming up for renewal next month, and if I wanted to, I could evict him. And having evicted my friend, we would have this space all to ourselves in which to practice not being self-centered! But John's need for his office is just as real and important as our need to sit. These needs aren't in competition, they are simply all part of a larger picture. The capacity to see that our responsibility is to the whole of life, and not simply to fulfill our own "self-centered dream" is what we are here to practice, and what I believe Joko saw as so conspicuously missing from THE ENGLISH PATIENT.
Once and for all, and sometimes the only thing that finally convinces us of the utter futility of that fantasy is a death, or a serious illness or some personal failure. But we still have to face our life, and we must respond to what it asks of us, even though we learn that no response can free us from simply being human. As we sit here today, perhaps as the day goes on, sitting here with emotional and physical pain, we can all ask what it is we cling to so tightly, what about ourselves we think we can't let go of at any cost. But in another sense, there is no way to let go of life, short of dying. We sit, we can't move, we're in pain, and inevitably we ask ourselves, what is the meaning of our coming here? How will you answer?