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The Plateau

Our basic objective in this practice is to learn who we are. And we experience this when we sit, completely being just this moment. But that is too radically simple for us, and we inevitably bring to sitting an image of our self, who we are, and what we expect sitting to be. We all try to incorporate sitting into our personal drama one way or another. This process is the parallel of the transference in therapy, consciously or unconsciously we structure our experience of the situation to be in line with our usual self-image, expectations and defenses. Perhaps we approach it as a difficult task which we strive to master. If we feel harried or overwhelmed by our daily life, we may try to use it to feel calm, and make it a refuge. We may find it helpful or challenging or peaceful- up to a point - and then we do our best not to go beyond that point, and to confine our experience to that level and go no further. All these agenda may be perfectly valid as far as they go, but inevitably they lead to a plateau, a place beyond which we are unwilling to go. And so becoming clear about our personal agenda is vital to our practice, if we not going to simply stay stuck on our particular plateau. In the old koans, the character of the monastery's head monk is often held up as an example of this kind of plateau -someone who's followed all the rules, been disciplined, obedient, and determined, but nonetheless is someone who has gotten bogged down in his very accomplishment, someone who's identity has gotten all tied up with achievement or some other self-image that he secretly cultivates in his practice. It's important that we look for and recognize the head monk in ourselves. We all want practice to confirm and conform to some self image we carry around - that's true whether we done this practice for 1 week, 1 year or 1 decade. And after that, there are special traps laid for teachers. Invariably, going beyond the plateau involves confronting our fear. But one of the strange things that can happen in this practice is that over the years we find ourselves less comfortable with allowing ourselves to just remain comfortable and we see the plateau not as a safe haven, or way of staying in control, but as a box, or even a prison cell, one we've decorated with all our favorite amenities, toys and comforts. For now, all that is necessary is for us to each pay attention and to be honest about the lines we've drawn in our practice and that so far we're unwilling to step across.