In our January Month-long Intensive, we have been talking about how to deal with stuck places and emotions.  This is a rich topic. Here are a few reflections from my own experience.

I remember my first New Year at Sogenji. On the New year,  we had to write a poem and present it to entire group, the Roshi included.  The Roshi would usually make some remark afterward slamming it or laughing or giving encouragement.  My first year, in my overly goofy exuberance, I recited my poem and in the middle of reciting it I added some performance art with a gymnastic move and went from a seated position to a handstand.  I’m pretty sure the Roshi laughed and regarded me as a cute puppy or little acorn with potential.  The poem was basically about becoming less fearful.  It was about how my living every moment was less afraid. Fearful of life, fearful of exploding, fearful of crying, fearful that life was against me.  

When I went to training, I did so because my relationship with reality was not working.  My every moment felt sense of life was fundamentally not working.  The world and my relationship with it was incongruent.  

After training for a while, I saw that if I found a way to open my self up, not just mentally but in a felt sense to reality, then I would spontaneously feel good. I’d feel more fluidity, be happier.  I was not so afraid of crying all of the time. I cried a lot my first year in the monastery.  I cried a lot in sanzen, too.  The Roshi was patient with me.  He let me go through it. He always praised my honesty.  

After several months, in a tea in the Osetsuma (tea room), the Roshi told me that I had become thick, meaning tough. He’d seen how I’d begun to stabilize through the training. Through hour after hour of sitting and my other energetic practices, I’d begun to find oneness. I’d begun to be able to face myself, reality, my stuff.  Before training, I had been walking around not able to face my stuck places.  Afraid of feeling what I felt. The shame and fear and anger and sadness.  And in fearing to feel those things, I had clogged up my whole life. I was a person physically trapped in avoidance.  Not able to open up to life.  And of course I saw the world as something so messed up and chaotic.  I blamed the world and its problems, but in reality, I had put the barrier up because I was afraid to face myself, afraid to feel.  My reality was created from within.  I loved life but could not meet it.  I did not have the sensory tools to interact with reality.

And when I began to feel what I felt, to get into my body and face myself, it was like my internal world began to harmonize, to run on all cylinders.  Where I had been an internal pressure cooker, now my emotions began to have less power to hook me.  I had more space within.  Everything was not so urgent all of the time.  Every moment was not a subtle mini battle to survive or to prove my worth. Nor to prove that life was good somehow. What an uphill battle I had been in. Gradually I was an electric wire which could hold more juice.  Not just being electrocuted all of the time!  

I began to enjoy life more. I began to enjoy reality.  My every moment was not one of conflict. Not a battle against reality. Not a walking ki problem. Not a battle against others.  The moment was not something scary, but began to be something sentient which lifted, expanded, guided me.  My relationship with the present moment became friendly. I began to merge with the feeling of each moment. This was a felt sense as well as mental.  

This was a long messy process, and not one I will ever be finished with.  In truth, this is really just the lifelong art of learning to do sussokan.*

 It takes a while! But when we begin to do these energetic practices, these tight, intense places within us, which may have always been there, become very apparent.  It is as if the volume turns up, and we can’t avoid them any longer.  Emotions erupt in this internal alchemy.  Our chest and solar plexus, which have been tight for a long time, can no longer be ignored.  I think anyone who has done the real internal energetic work has had times (sometimes years) when these tight spots begin to open and it all feels overwhelming.  They open a bit, and then we are trapped in the middle of an opening which can’t resolve.  We can’t turn left or right.  But little by little, as we slowly face ourselves more and more, keeping our awareness in the tanden, but not ignoring what and how we are feeling, that honesty is like a super power.  Allow those tight places to fully express and express more. Don’t close them down, don’t crush them with ideas of how your energy or internal world is supposed to be. Have courage! Begin to have faith that the universe is guiding you to open through those very tight places. 

Over time, we can feel more intimately.  Our internal language allows us to yield to this process.  We find some unknown vector of opening trying to happen, and we discover a way to get out of the way. Allow it be magical and continually new.  Find how it lights you up and inspires you. Don’t limit this experience. Release the horses! Allow it to seep into all of life. It is the most creative thing I can imagine, using our internal artistry to find a way to let go, with all of our focus, facing ourselves, bringing our most intimate hopes and intention to that process. I found that the universe was fundamentally on my side, guiding me, shaping me.  This keeps going and never ends.  Lots of breakthroughs happen along the way.  And we become a vessel which is not so moved around by life.  Our relationship with the present moment becomes more and more sublime, as something alive. These humbling practices work, if we honestly face ourselves, with courage and curiosity.  

Thanks for reading.  You can do it!  Take good care!

*Sussokan-  Our breathing is with us from birth to death. We practice sussokan, counting the exhalations, with our complete concentration, following the breath to the last point, and letting go of the preconceived ideas and stored up memories in this process.