Tanzan and Ekido were once traveling together down a muddy road. A heavy rain was still falling. Coming around a bend, they met a lovely girl in a silk kimono and sash, unable to cross the road lest the mud ruin her clothes.
“Come on, girl” said Tanzan at once. Lifting her in his arms, he carried her over the mud and put her down safely on the other side. The monks then continued on their way.
Ekido did not speak again until that night when they reached a lodging temple. Then he could no longer restrain himself. “We monks don’t go near females,” he told Tanzan, “especially not young and attractive ones. It is dangerous. Why did you do that?”
“I put the girl down back there,” said Tanzan. “Are you still carrying her?”
— traditional Zen koan
The past year for me has been about letting go of attachments. It’s not until you do this that you realise how many there are. People, places, objects, knowledge, experiences, expectations, the past, the future. Fortunately they are all manifestations of the same underlying pathology – the ego-mind. One technique is helping me overcome them all, and it’s very simple. It just needs practice. And the ego finds all sorts of reasons to avoid practicing.
The big one I’m wedged at presently is the past. I am no longer traumatized by “bad” past events. But the above koan makes an important point – it can be just as dangerous to dwell on pleasant past experiences as unpleasant ones. There is no difference; you are still not present, and scratching around in your memories for a reason to feel good Now produces only a fading echo of positive emotion that soon gives way to blues because you are no longer in that situation. It also allows the ego to continue investing situations with the power to “make you feel good” or “make you feel bad”; if situations have that power, You don’t.
It’s only quite recently that I discovered I had the choice to feel good (or bad) irrespective of my situation. Having realised that, you may think, it’s easy to choose to feel good. Oh no. The ego intervenes. It throws a tantrum. It does everything in its power to stop that choice being made. At times it can be tough to remember that I have more power than it.
It was easier being a Christian. You don’t need to be powerful, in fact the more weak and feeble you are, the better, the more you need God to come and save you from Satan. You are absolved from any responsibility for your own life. And God is more powerful than Satan, so will win the war in the end, even if he seems to be losing most of the battles. It’s all part of the plan.
Without that safety net, you need to find your own source of power. I had to go through some dark, dark times to realise just how much I needed a light. And then my wife walked away to show me that no-one, nothing outside of myself, could be depended on. I and I alone had to find my power, and in so doing, become whole. This is my quest.