Where am I stuck?
by Zen Master D. Genpo Merzel
If you really want to practice Zen, not just know something about it, a good first question to ask is “where am I stuck?”
We may think, ‘I’m not stuck,’ or ‘people fall into two categories: some are stuck and others are not, and I myself am [or am not].’ What I’m suggesting is that the question is not “if” I’m stuck, but “where?” Assume that every step of the way, as soon as we put one foot down, say the left foot, the left foot’s stuck, and the right foot is free Then we put the right foot down, and the right foot’s now stuck and the left foot’s free. We’re just stuck, unstuck, stuck, unstuck, and back and forth.
So you can ask yourself that question, but it’s not so easy to answer. Here’s an easy exercise you can begin with. First, visualize somebody you can’t stand. This shouldn’t be too hard. Take a minute, think of somebody you just hate. Then think, what is it about that person you can’t stand, and you’ll notice that there are other people that have those qualities, and you hate them too. Then you’ll know you’ve just hit on a part of yourself where you’re stuck, a part of yourself you have disowned.
This is where the Big Mind process can be very helpful. Let’s say I hate prejudiced people, people who are prejudiced against a particular creed, religion, nationality, race, whatever. In other words, I hate people who hate other people. Well, then, that’s disowned in me, the one that’s prejudiced is disowned in me. So what I would do is look at, or hear from, that disowned voice in myself. “OK, I am the voice of prejudice, and I’ve been disowned by him, by Genpo. Well, how do I feel? Actually I hate him for that! I hate Genpo for disowning me, because I want to be prejudiced. I want to like the people I like, and hate the people I want to hate. And there are certain people I hate, because they’re not like me.”
By letting that voice speak, by letting it out, what we start to see is how, when it’s disowned, or a shadow, it will come out in covert ways, leak out sideways, and affect our life. So maybe I’m in that camp where I hate all prejudiced people, I just hate them. In fact, maybe I’d like to kill them all. You know, that’s a lot of hate, a lot of prejudice, against prejudiced people.
So I start to look at the effects of being disowned by Genpo. He hates a lot of people he puts into that category. He stereotypes them, calls them all kinds of names — rednecks, bigots, he can go on and on and on. He’s judgmental, self-righteous, arrogant, ignorant, all the qualities he claims to despise. In fact, by disowning me, he disowns a whole part of himself, which is prejudice.
Now he can begin to look at what it would be like if he accepted this, if he owned me, as prejudice. Well, the more Genpo can own me, the voice of prejudice, the more I can stop being so perverted and immature, or hostile, and in a way destroying his life. The more he owns me, or any other disowned voice, the less stuck he will be.
When we get to the place we’re actually owning the voice, we transcend it. All of a sudden it becomes discerning wisdom. Yes, there are certain people I don’t like very much, and there are other people I like a lot. There are certain people that I appreciate being with more than others, and I’m able to articulate that, and to say, yes, I would like to do this with you tonight, or no, I would rather not go out with you. Whatever the reason, you can own it with the wisdom of discernment, and say yes, I want to be around these kinds of people, and I don’t want to associate with those kinds of people. It’s not a hatred anymore, it’s not coming out sideways, it’s not anger or rage, it’s just discerning wisdom.
When I say ‘all of a sudden,’ what I mean is that the realization is always sudden, immediate. But the assimilation of this realization into our life takes time. You can’t ignore that things take time. The awakening is outside of the realm of space and time, but to integrate it into your everyday life is always going to take time.