10 September 2010

What it Might Take to Become a Chair

On Sunday we heard some of Tangen-Roshi's words in teisho. What we heard were his recollections of when, as a 18- or 19-year old, he resolved to become like a chair:

When I was eighteen or nineteen years old, I resolved to become like a chair. That was because a chair doesn't refuse its services to anybody; it just takes care of the sitter and lets him rest his legs. After it has served its purpose, no one gets up and thanks or offers words of kindness to the chair. It will more likely get kicked out of the way. What's more, the chair doesn't grumble or complain or bear a grudge, but just takes whatever is given. When there is a job to be done, it puts forth all its energy without picking and choosing according to its desires. I was thinking, "wouldn't it be great to have such a heart."

I wrote on a big sheet of paper, "Be like a chair", and every day took note of how close I came. If even a little dissatisfaction arose, I would regard that as an embarrassing state of mind for a chair. I considered how thoroughly I was of use to others. A chair doesn't plop itself down on top of the sitter, right?

I immediately found myself echoing his thought, "Wouldn't it be great to have such a heart!"

And then I noted just as quickly, "I really don't have one."

I've been thinking a lot this week about what it might take to have one. I'm not one for generalities, so I find looking at specific cases much easier to work with. Today while driving my daughter to school, for instance, I could count at least three times I was quite "un-chairlike": (1) when someone insisted on passing me on the right on Ridge Ave., I sped up in order to keep her from getting back into the left lane (turns out she had no intention of getting back into the left lane after all); (2) when coming off Hollywood onto the start of Lake Shore Drive I was quite impatient with the driver of the clunker of an Impala in front of me that would not (probably could not) accelerate as I wanted him to; and (3) while stopped on the Ashland Ave. bridge over I-290, I honked at a the guy in front of me to close the gap between him and the car in front of him, because I thought it was excessive.

All that in the space of the 7:00 hour. And I'm sure I'm forgetting some, too!

Driving is just one of many ways my un-chairlike heart shows up, so just staying off the road won't really help much. (I actually thought about doing just that!) I could cut off all the ways in which it shows up, but that wouldn't get to the root of the issue, either.

I know full well what's going on here. I'm still so very much enamored of the idea I have of myself that whenever the world doesn't march to its tune, I react, not at my bogus idea but at the world: "She's not driving like I want her to!" "He's not moving along like I want him to!" The list could -- and does -- go on.

Back to the mat, then, back to the mat. Just let go of the one thing that will then let go of it all. And then I might become like a chair.

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