Thursday, May 31, 2012

On Loving Stories

Zen Confessions time...I love stories.

Izzat so wrong?

While sitting, one approach to clearing the mind is to recognize when the monkey brain has bounded off in a new direction. Then simply name the line of thinking, and recenter on the counting. Usually I find myself spinning on some aspect if life, or how it "should" be but isn't, how it was and will never be again, or how I wish it hadn't been. Recognizing the drift, I name it "story" and come back to center.

As an English major and someone mad for narrative, I have noticed that if I have been reading any time close to the moment I get on the meditation cushion, there's even more sludge than usual to wade through before mind settles down. I have an extra layer of story, usually fiction, sometimes biography or research all fresh and interesting to contemplate instead of getting down to brass tacks.

Like swimming through a turbulent sargasso, I feel like I have to push these seaweed distractions to each side as I swim down to a more tranquil depth. At the same time I know it shouldn't matter whether the story is "my" story, or someone else's, as long as I am mindful of whatever comes up.

Does not stop me from reading, however.

When feeling ill, my old standby since the fifth grade was to stack the books high by the bed, and read, sleep, eat, repeat until I felt better.

Since I've been hammered with the adrenal burnout, I've spent weekends (and once almost two weeks) just reading, hoping that the down time will help me recover. What I am discovering is that in fact, anything too emotionally compelling is actually more of a strain than I should be putting myself through right now. Evidently, everyday life with two kids and two cats in the house plus work has enough stress without adding more.

So...spending a lot more time reading facts & research, learning about the body and nutrition, health topics, and in the evenings, Zen sources.

Reading one of those last night, Deshimaru's Way of True Zen (thanks Pigasus for the recommendation), I recognized that a great deal of how teaching is effectively transmitted is through metaphor, comparison, and quick narrative sketches. In other words, stories. In this case, stories to help us wake up, as opposed to those simply meant to entertain or distract.

But don't the best stories both engage us to the point we forget ourselves, and then plop us right down in the middle of significant recognition and resonance? The ones I love most, do.

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