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Thread: Confessions of an Ango Burnout

  1. #1
    Senior Member AlanLa's Avatar
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    Confessions of an Ango Burnout

    I havenít done the end of Ango retreat yet, nor am I really sure when I will. To do it on the scheduled dates of 12/4-5 was just impractical due to job demands. As a college professor, thatís about the end of the semester when things get really busy and more than a bit crazy. So my plan was to extend Ango another 20 days and do it 12/24-25. These two days have some significance for a lot of people, but because I donít really do that holiday anymore it seemed a good time to have my own zazen-type holiday. Plus, I did the retreat those days last year and it worked out great, so I planned on this year being like last. But somewhere along the Way I got burned out by it all. The whole shebang blew up in my face, so no retreat, at least not yet.

    The first 100 days of Ango went pretty well. I donít think I missed a day of sitting once, even when sick I managed some form of zazen every day. I never ever thought I could be that consistent, so I was encouraged and thought little of extending Ango for a measly 20 days. But from day 100 and on Ango got really hard for me. My practice began to really fall apart. I would forget to sit a second time on some days and on others I would literally drag myself to do that second sitting. Morning sits went better, but even those began being done with reluctance. The DO-ing of zazen became a tote that barge in the morning and lift that bale in the evening chore, a burden, a heavy weight that began to drag me down. I feel itís important to say that the zazen itself was always fine, because even sloppy zazen is perfect in its own way. But the getting of myself to do it actually began to depress me, especially with the idea of two solid days of it looming on the ever nearer horizon.

    I think a couple things were going on here. One, somewhere towards the end of the 100 days it had ceased to be a life-practice and become instead a job, a task with a beginning and an end. I began to say to myself things like, ďI just have to get through a few more days of this twice a day sitting stuff and then Iím free.Ē Two, I had artificially enforced some deadline, imposed an endpoint, concocted a finish line to it all by giving myself my own dates of closure, my own retreat dates. There was a growing internal pressure to meet this self-imposed deadline, to reach my endpoint, as if there really was such a thing as a finish line to this practice. Forms. I got stuck in forms. I lost the life-as-practice flow and snuck in my own delusional hard and fast forms.

    A couple things got me out of this rut called Al-Ango. One was the story of Vasubandhu I read while catching up in the book. The name Vasubandhu means total practice, and he was a guy that lived up to that name by doing everything right, by the book. His practice looked perfect on the outside. But one day the patriarch Jayata came up and said something along the lines of ďYou donít have to do be so by the book to practice the Way. Loosen up. The unaimed arrow never misses.Ē That really planted a seed in me. The second thing that helped was to finally send a note to Jundo asking for some Skype time. Now, zen is not a 12-step program, but sometimes the most liberating step you can take is that first step to ask for help, something I generally loathe doing. In this case, the step to ask for help was a backward step, because it gave me some space to see what I was doing to create this self-imposed samsara. As of this writing, I have yet to talk to Jundo (weíve missed each other), but that backward step space has helped me to see a way out of this mess.

    The first thing is no retreat today. Take the pressure off. Iíll do it some day, soon, probably, but I donít know when, and thatís ok. The second thing is I need to get my practice back to being a dance and not a chore. Iím trying to shake things up, get out of the routine. No zazen first thing in the morning for a while, no timers for a while, no set sequences of Heart sutra, then zazen, then metta, etc. like I was doing during Ango; instead just sit when I feel like sitting, chant when I feel like chanting, metta when I am moved to it, precepts when it seems like the right thing to do, vows and bows when vows and bows seem in order. All in no order. Just dance with all the forms of practice to make them new again.

    Iíve taken to the analogy of surfing to describe my practice, but I think I took it too far to mean digging into the waves of life and practice. A good surfer, I imagine, has to be light on their feet on the board, like Jundoís dancer. A good surfer (zen practitioner) glides over the waves as his board (zazen) digs into the waves. As a result, surfer and wave merge; not one, not two. And even the best surfers, which I am most definitely not, fall off their boards from time to time.

    Here endeth my confession. Thanks for listening. This, too, the making of a private struggle public, was a way out of my mess. As we say here in Texas, I appreciate ya.

    Gassho

  2. #2
    Treeleaf Unsui Dosho's Avatar
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    Re: Confessions of an Ango Burnout

    It's posts like these that help me remember why I started down my current path and the rewards it brings to me and others (not that obtaining such rewards was the goal!). The story of Vasubandhu surely resonates with me as I have recently realized what pain and suffering trying to be perfect has brought to my life. I always was perfectly imperfect...I just needed some time to figure it out.

    Thanks for the reminder Alan. And thank you for your practice.

    Gassho,
    Dosho

  3. #3

    Re: Confessions of an Ango Burnout

    Hey Al,

    Believe it or not ... this is ALL a vital aspect of Ango! All "surfing"!

    The surfer is not surfing if he always can stay on the board. The burn-outs ... I mean "wipe-outs" (and mastering how to 'wipe-out') are also at the heart of surfing! Part of our mastery is, not only knowing how to fall (so we don't ding our board or break our necks!), but also how to climb back on and catch another wave.

    Heck, even a surfing monk deserves some time on the beach, enjoying sun and sand, putting the board aside ... because who can or wants to spend their whole life on the Zafu ... I mean, on the "board"? (If you think about it, most of "surfing" time is not spent ultimately standing on the board, and includes the drive to the beach and the bbq after and all of life ... and most of life is not really "on the Zafu". Yet, it is all "Zazen", all the "surf trip". Ultimately, we come to realize that also being on the beach is Zazen ... I mean, is "surfing." Of course, not good if we just spend all our days on the beach either, just staring at the waves ... cause then we are just afraid to get our feet wet, deluded beach dwellers, and we need to get out there on the water to surf.

    A good surfer knows that, there is no "place to fall" cause it is all the ocean. There is no problem to fall. However, there are right and wrong ways to fall. In the end, you are only surfing with your own mind, which is the source of resistance and trouble.

    All surfing. Narly. Totally Rad.

    Something like that.

    Gassho, J

    (I actually knew a Japanese monk who would take vacations from the demands of monking at the monastery ... and go surfing!)


  4. #4

    Re: Confessions of an Ango Burnout

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    A good surfer knows that, there is no "place to fall" cause it is all the ocean. There is no problem to fall. However, there are right and wrong ways to fall. In the end, you are only surfing with your own mind, which is the source of resistance and trouble.
    If ya like some more water based musings ...

    viewtopic.php?f=19&t=2499

    Or perhaps its all just all wet. 8)

  5. #5
    Senior Member AlanLa's Avatar
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    Re: Confessions of an Ango Burnout

    More reflections from the burned out Ango surfer dude. Just call me Spicoli.

    The upside (+1) of my being a slave to forms during 100+ days of Ango was that it got me through it. I never would have been so consistent in my practice for so long. The downside (-1) is that by the end I was a bit of a wreck. Put it all together [1 + (-1)] and you get not one, not two, but zero, and zero is a balance point, a small point of transcendence for me and my practice. Yesterday I sat with my heater cycling on and off and my running dishwasher. Today I have no fixed ideas on sitting, just that I will at some point (or zero points) during the day.

    But there are no shortcuts. I could not have gotten to this zero point by starting with sitting with my heater and dishwasher. I would have cooled off and washed out entirely if I insisted at the start that I didnít want to be a slave to forms. So I think the point, at least for me, is the journey from slavishness to almost wrecked to ďa-ha!Ē and that spark of transcendence. I got here (nowhere) by doing the work. Itís one of those lessons Taigu, especially, likes to point out, and I fully endorse it.

    But the work is all part of the surfing. Sometimes you fall off your board and get hurt, but you get back on the board and paddle out for more, though maybe taking a break to lick your wounds first. As Jundo said above, itís all surfing! I think wisdom is knowing when to lick your wounds and when to paddle back out there and what waves to attempt once you are back out into the ocean of life-as-practice. Luckily, we have surfing instructors to impart some wisdom upon us, but we can also develop our own wisdom through the trial and error of surfing.

    As I recall, there is a point toward the end of day two on the retreat where Jundo says we have been sitting for a long time now and itís getting hard, but you have to push on through it. That was exactly my attitude as I approached the retreat, that I needed to just push on through that really BIG wave I saw coming. But then I thought, wait a minute, maybe I better check. Maybe this is a little more than I am ready for. Maybe this is not something to just push on through. At almost the last minute, I waved myself off. Then I went online to read a message from Jundo also waving me off, at least for now.

    The waves donít stop. The Big Ones are out there waiting for me. But for the time being I am free-styling it on some small waves in the cove.

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