So we need to find a way to own our disowned voices. Sometimes the way we find out how to voice a disowned aspect of ourselves is by listening to others who have not disowned it. I had a voice that was so completely disowned for so many decades that even when I knew it was disowned I couldn’t voice it. It was the voice of pleasure. I had disowned it when I had my first Zen opening in 1971. What I didn’t realize then is that when I had my first awakening I disowned a whole slew of voices. It’s like I fired half the company.
A year later this idea I had about pleasure was reinforced when I heard my teacher, Maezumi Roshi, say Zen practice is not about pleasure or being happy. I’ll tell you some other voices I disowned: competition, jealousy, envy, the whole marketplace mentality—seeking, striving, improving economically, materially (but not spiritually, of course). So everything I disowned went underground and came up in a covert way in my life. Wherever I looked I saw competitive people, I saw ambitious people, I saw people seeking money and fame and fortune, and I was above all that. The only thing that seemed to make any sense whatsoever was knowing oneself better and helping others. Now, is that a bad thing? No. Did it cripple me? Yes. Did it have a negative effect? Yes.
About five years ago I realized it was time to get back in touch with my own voice of pleasure, but by then I had heard so many teachers—including my own teacher, Maezumi Roshi—say that Zen practice is not about pleasure or happiness that the voice was thoroughly disowned in me. So I turned for help to a longtime student for whom pleasure is definitely not disowned. What I did was very sly and cunning. I asked him if he would mind if I facilitated him. “Sure,” he said, “you can facilitate me.” So I said, “Would you allow me to facilitate the voice of pleasure?” “Oh, sure!” He can take pleasure in any situation, so I asked him to speak as the voice of pleasure at a good meal. “I take a bite of my delicious filet mignon. Oh my, that’s good!” he sighs. “Whew, oh my god, this is so tender, it’s so flavorful, it’s the best piece of steak I’ve ever….” Then he takes a drink of wine. “Oh, what great wine! What is this, a two hundred dollar bottle of wine?!” “No, it’s twenty dollars.” “Oh my god, this is so good!” Then he takes a puff on his cigar. “Oh my God, this is better than any Cuban cigar I’ve ever smoked!” He just went on and on and on, and I listened really attentively.
Then I said, “Now, would you facilitate my voice of pleasure?” So he did, and I went dead. Then I started to remember what he said, and I started to imitate him. I just started to say the same words and pretty soon I got into the groove and I was able to find the voice of pleasure. I’ve been a lot happier since.
By Zen Master D. Genpo Merzel