Being Intimate with Depression and other Difficulties
A Dharma talk by Roshi Pat Enkyo Roshi O’Hara
Given at the end of summer retreat at the Grail – July, 2002
There is a hummingbird feeder hanging just outside the window of my cabin. Throughout this retreat period, ruby-throated hummingbirds, the males with beautiful bright ruby-red necks and the females with their iridescent green backs, have been visiting the feeder. We tend to think of hummingbirds in terms of their incredible rate of movement. But I came to appreciate watching them when they were at ease — when they were just seated on a twig. About the size of your thumb, a hummingbird will sit up on a twig and preen itself, fluffing its feathers, acting, for all the world, not as if it is the smallest bird in the universe. It is there in its complete presence, just as it is — the tiniest bird. If we could learn from the hummingbirds, to sit on our twig and take care of ourselves in that way, it would be truly wonderful. To be that close to oneself is true intimacy.
To be intimate is to be one with our experience. How bizarre it is that we pull away from our experience, from ourselves. We’re in an experience, and we go somewhere else. It seems that we’re so challenged to simply be intimate with the moment. And it is in intimacy that healing takes place.
In English, the word "heal" comes from the Old English ‘haelan’ meaning whole or to make whole. It is what we mean when we say ‘namu’ — to be one with. This is what it means to be healed — to become one again; to become one with the situation; to become one with the grief; to become one with the fear, with whatever is here now. Namu – to be one with, to be whole, to be intimate with the moment; to be whole with yourself. Then you can be whole with those around you.For example, many of you know that I am in the midst of a six month medication protocol that has challenging side effects, one of which is a disruption in brain chemistry, resulting in depression. And so, I’m kind of weepy … and sad. Today with its drizzling rain and overcast skies is a perfect day for me. It is a kind of melancholy feeling. Now, when I can be healed is when I can appreciate that sense of melancholy — when I can just be in this kind of gray day; when I don’t try to pull away from where I am; when I don’t think about the ‘shoulds,’ or my ideas about how it ought to be. But when I’m just simply here.
This teaching is revealed by the story of the third Zen ancestor of China, who was a leper. His name is Seng-ts’an, which means jewel of the community. Imagine, a leper who is called ‘jewel of the community.’ When he went to see the teacher Hui-k’o for the first time, he said: "My body is infected with leprosy. I beg you to cleanse me of my wrongdoing." Hui-k’o said: "Bring me your wrongdoing and I will cleanse you." Seng-ts’an paused, was quiet for a while, and then he said: "I’ve looked for my wrongdoing — I cannot find it." And Hui-k’o then said: "Thus, I have already cleansed you of your wrongdoing."
"My body is infected with leprosy. I beg you, oh, priest: Cleanse me of my wrongdoing." What is his wrongdoing? Is this retribution for a previous life? Is it bad luck? And where is it? Where can you point to it? Could this wrongdoing be pulling away from things as they are? Right now, I ask you, bring me your wrongdoing in this very moment. Can you find it?
Keizan, who wrote up this story at the beginning of the 14th century, writes:
Our suffering is ungraspable. It is originally pure.When you understand the original mind, there is no difference between dying here and being born there. So how could there be any difference between wrongdoing and the routes of good? (from Transmission of the Light)
Can you see what he’s pointing to? He’s pointing to one aspect of our existence. Not all aspects — he’s pointing to one aspect of our existence: original mind. And it’s the aspect I’m trying to shine a light on today. Because, in my experience — in my own life, and those that I’ve encountered — it’s that original mind that heals us. Getting in touch with original mind heals our grief, our anger, our sense of sickness. Maybe your body/mind doesn’t respond in the way that you think it ought to, when you think about it from the view of your individual mind. But if you truly become one with the situation as it is, then you are truly healed. Then your suffering is ‘originally pure’ – it is what is in this moment.
I’m depressed, but I can’t find my depression. I’ve looked everywhere. Yes, everything’s kind of gray. Yes, I read sentimental haikus, with the rain and the clouds in the dark days of autumn. But isn’t it the chasing after some idea of how I ought to be that creates the suffering energy? When we face illness or grief, and we acknowledge it, we are now here, completely here. And being completely here, we’re shifting, transforming in this moment. It’s not the same as it was a second ago.
Seng-ts’an, with his body rotting and stinking, wrote,
The great way is not difficult. Simply avoid picking and choosing.
Without grasping or rejecting, the way is perfectly clear. (from Gatha on Faith Mind)
A man who suffered such physical pain, whom people pushed away, because they were afraid of his disease, reminds us to neither hold on nor push away what is in each moment.
How do we do this? How do we find that space where we’re not grasping or rejecting? Is it not our practice of zazen? It is allowing the mind and body to just sit, just being undivided; just being whole; just being healed. Like the hummingbird perched on its twig, we can find that space where we’re intimate with just this moment. It is this-moment-mind. It may have drawn you to Zen years ago, but don’t forget it — it’s still this-moment-mind. This is the way.