A couple of years ago I went with some friends to see a Peruvian movie called “At Forty.” It was a cliché story about a group of college buddies turning 40 and looking at the unexpected turns their lives had taken. Upon leaving the theatre we decided to write down where we wanted to be at 40. We sealed our futures in a fast-food paper bag and agreed to open it when the youngest amongst us turned 40.
I wrote, “I want to be a committed Zen student.” I had been practicing for a couple of years at that point, 100% in love with Practice and sure I’d never want to do anything else more than I wanted to practice. We still have a couple of years to go before the bag’s opening day, but, since I turned 40 a couple of weeks ago, that piece of paper has been showing up in my mind a lot.
Did I stay true to my deep heart’s desire? Would I still consider that to be my top aspiration? Trying to answer these questions would be giving egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate a free pass to slander my Practice. Instead I’ll describe a process I have been in, hoping that if we were in a room together and the facilitator asked “anyone else?” other folks would raise their hands.
I started practicing five years ago, after hearing an interview of Cheri. I still have my first recording and still remember when I discovered Open Air. I used to listen to it for hours on end, hardly believing my luck that such a thing existed and that I had come across it. As I went on practicing, amazing, unexpected things started to happen: Music became more beautiful, trees were dancing for me in the wind, my parents were speaking only words of wisdom (this one, especially, hadn’t seemed to be the case before). I was less distracted, I forgot less and lost fewer things. Even just breathing became interesting (at least sometimes).
Then what happened? Was it Nirvana? Did I dissolve in perfect peace and happiness? No. What happened next is that this thought started creeping in: “I think I am cured. Do I really need to keep practicing so much?”
At the beginning of this year, when it was announced that the daily radio show was going to be renewed for one more year, I was in shock. Well, conditioning was in shock, but it really felt as if it was me. The thoughts came: “I don’t have time to spend half an hour each day listening to other people’s problems on the radio.” “Between meditating, the show and the daily assignment it’s an hour per day! Think about what I could do in that hour!” (The answer: checking Facebook.)
These thoughts and others along similar lines kept coming, but I have been lucky enough to hang in there and keep practicing. Has it been luck? Habit? Grace? Willingness? The fact that I took advantage of the moments of lucidity to organize my visiting monk stays at the Monastery? The process is not totally clear to me and I am still in it, but I can say I am wholeheartedly thankful and committed to showing up.