Friday, November 19, 2010

The Pain of Not Knowing

Wraith of the Desert
Originally uploaded by Seeking Tao
In the Zen monastery, in the zendo, the meditation hall, watches are not allowed. And I’ve noticed that here, during the meditation, some people keep checking the time. Like, gee, I wonder how much longer I’m going to have to sit here? Is he late? Is he torturing me again? Or whatever!

It’s really recommended during meditation periods that you keep your watch somewhere you won’t see it. Otherwise you’re denying yourself the pain of not knowing. And that’s an endless detour. Don’t deny yourself the pain of not knowing! That’s a very powerful and important pain.
It seems quite harmless, of course, “Oh, I’m just looking at my watch. Just want to see what time it is. I want to know, is it ten more minutes, thirty more minutes, one more minute?” But again, that’s a detour around something that can be very powerful.
Because ultimately it’s all about not knowing.
That’s really the secret teaching.
Jon Bernie, The Pain of Not Knowing

These were the words I read aloud last night as we began our meditation. I’d come across them just that afternoon and they’d rung a bell with me.
They took me back to Monday when I was surprisingly disturbed after the sonogram they did to assess the thyroid nodule in my neck.
It was easy for my mind to say I was upset because, “What if it’s cancer?” was rattling around.
However, it wasn’t long before I knew that wasn’t really the issue, but rather a lame excuse.
The real issue was I wanted a few minutes to have a good cry and be with the feeling, “There’s nothing underneath me. I don’t know what will happen.”
But, instead of the luxury of a cry I was at work, sitting at my desk, and expected to repeat yet another biology experiment.

I called a friend. I told her about the sonogram. She immediately said, “Don’t give those thoughts any energy!” She meant the cancer deal.
I told her that although those thoughts were running, it was more just being on my own, living alone, not knowing what would happen… and even that wasn’t what was really bothering me. What I really wanted was a chance to cry.
This she understood and it wasn’t long before we were laughing about the privacy of bathroom stalls in public halls and weirding out co-workers.

That was Monday.
Last night as I left work, I revisited these events amazed to discover my complete ambivalence. I tried to find the words:
It seemed impossible to worry about the sonogram or what might lie ahead.
It seemed impossible to even pick up the thoughts.
It was as if they slipped right through the fingers of my mind. So, I kept I looking for the correct description until the word “peace” occurred.
Yes. That was it. I was at peace, despite nothing having been resolved on the level of facts and information.

Somehow the words of Jon Bernie addressed this transformation.

As it turned out, Mary liked them because she could never know why her son had died so young.
Eve liked them because she is living with the unknowns surrounding her cancer treatment.
She spoke of how with so many unknowns personal control is lost and in the end you are simply left with faith.
I took that to mean you just have to have faith: that there is a God,
that God will do what’s best, that in the end it all works out… Faith.
And I wasn’t so sure she felt that she could find that.

For a moment no one said anything. We all just sat there quietly, and I couldn’t find the words to explain what I wanted to say… which is this:
There’s faith (like that) and there’s also something else.

Jon Bernie's little exercise of noticing, notice how we even want to know the time, is the practice round for allowing yourself to notice the big deals.
“My God, I don’t know how I’ll get through this!”
It’s about giving yourself totally to “I don’t know.”
How does that feel?

If you can be with that terror, or that pain, or whatever feeling that arises and let it run its course you are delvered into God, into Peace.
Faith is not required (though it can be another way to get there).
Bernie is speaking of a more direct path that runs right through your body and delivers you directly.

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