On Being Spacious
(by Elihu Genmyo Smith)
When we think that our life is limited or small, then all sorts of events and circumstances can disturb us and result in dissatisfaction, stress and suffering. We only have limited space, and can become disturbed (or worse) over what fits or not, what we like or dislike. When we know that our life is broad and vast and includes the many beings and circumstances that we encounter, then we can be at ease despite having to act and work with all sorts of situations – some quite difficult, painful, and initially seemingly unresolvable for us – because we know that our efforts are manifesting and revealing the life that we are. We are spacious and can act spaciously, making the efforts to be spaciously skillful and appropriate.
Unfortunately, we often do not recognize our life for what it is. When we do not see our life as it is, our actions may lead to further entanglement. If our actions are skillful and appropriate, grappling with conditions and circumstances can be an opportunity to encounter our life, expanding our vision and capacity, nurturing this moment’s encounter, this moment’s intimacy. We are able to see and be reminded of who we are; our grappling and practicing in the midst of conditions allows the spaciousness of our life to be evident and manifest.
Whether we call it Zen practice or something else, it is not a matter of learning new ideas and concepts from others but finding what clarifies this life moment for us, what resonates in this moment. It is never a matter of getting something from someone else or somewhere else. And it is not self-centeredness, not the aggrandizing habits of attachment. Practice is living this intimacy that we are. It is our own life that we encounter throughout the day and throughout the universe – our own treasure that we realize.
In Zen the primary practice is sitting still, being this moment, settling “into” this that we are. Being still is sitting upright, and includes being any of the many forms of human posture and functioning, including being still in the midst of moving, in human relating and responding. This choice of being present and experiencing is important because we do have the choice to be where we are or, through physical and mental grasping or rejecting, to refuse to be where we are. Of course, even in the midst of grasping or rejecting we don’t go anywhere else. However, we can miss this life that we are. Therefore it is important and valuable to be and to settle in the midst of this ongoing change, life.
We are change itself. We often think of our life in terms of things changing; we like some changes and don’t like others, we want some and not others. This moment ongoing change is our opportunity for skillful, appropriate response to the circumstances that reveal themselves, the conditions that reveal this moment – and also we are change itself. This moment is the opportunity to be and know this that we are. Stillness and ongoing change – not two different things.
In my book Everything is the Way: Ordinary Mind Zen these matters are further clarified and different perspectives and facets of everyday life practice are explored.
Elihu Genmyo Smith began his Zen training in 1974 at the Zen Studies Society in New York with Soen Nakagawa Roshi and Eido Shimano Roshi. He continued his training at Zen Center of Los Angeles, where he was ordained a Buddhist priest by Hakuyu Maezumi Roshi in 1979. After completing formal koan study with Maezumi Roshi, in 1984 he continued his training with Charlotte Joko Beck at Zen Center of San Diego. Genmyo received Dharma transmission (shiho) and authorization to teach from Joko in 1992. He is a co-founder of the Ordinary Mind Zen School and currently lives in Champaign, Illinois where he is resident teacher of the Prairie Zen Center. Genmyo is also the author of Ordinary Life, Wondrous Life published by the Prairie Zen Center. www.prairiezen.orgissue 34, Zen