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5. A Tolerance for Disaster

Question: But what if it’s a disaster?

Teacher: That’s it too.

Love is not an equanimity practice; it doesn’t filter your responses or fit them to a preset level. Meditation and love can both result in equanimity but it’s not a goal, since a goal makes you refuse other possibilities that appear. Love makes you less happy with day-to-day grayness and more resilient with the actual reverses of life, such as an earthquake.

You notice what gives you pain, what hardens your heart—how when you dislike someone or hold a grudge, or embark on a crusade, or are jealous and principled, you make yourself and others around you unhappy. Noticing is a practice of love. You don’t have to exclude, extinguish, or dislike anything that the mind presents. Life becomes an adventure. You take the ride.

6. It Happened on a Friday Morning at 11:07

Enlightenment is rooted in forms and textures. It is anchored in the real world of people—yellow dresses, cafes in Chelsea, and a fast car turning end over end on a summer night in a corn field, its headlights pointing to the sky, the field, the sky, the field.

I’ve talked to several women who had epiphanies during childbirth. They remember that moment of pain turning outwards into something vast and joyful. You remember your first kiss or when you met the one you love. You remember where you were, what the weather was like, what you were wearing, who else was with you, and what song was playing. Such a memory is one of the compass points of life. It doesn’t mean that the love was smart or worked out or you understood what it meant, but it means that you surrendered. You risked the taste of life, and that changed things.

Love is not good for purposes other than its own expression. It can’t be used for advantage, it is not practical, it is not approved of, it is unpredictable, it is for itself, it is only for your benefit. Its gifts are given without conditions. As we make the meditation tradition our own, we are building a culture. For this we need to learn what is important to us. And love in all its forms—romance and friendship, its loyalties and betrayals, its jealousies and generosities, is one of the deepest things in life, and also one of the most essential.

7. Practices of Love

If we didn’t try to tame or banish the unruliness of love, I wonder what our practices would be like? I think they would plunge us into what is real in our feelings.

New lovers discover themselves through the mirror of the other and often tell each other their romantic history. In this spirit you could tell a friend the story of a love affair that asks to be told. It could be a bit like the Asian custom of making offerings to the dead. And you could find what was good about the love affair no matter how it ended. You might soften and discover something new about your own story.

Here is another practice, rooted in Zen tradition, which you might enjoy. Sit down with someone you care about and have a cup of tea. The practice is just sitting and having tea and conversation for its own sake. Drink the tea together without an agenda, without wanting anything from the other person or trying to change them. That means not wanting them to think or feel differently from the way they do, without wanting them to appreciate you, or needing them to understand how you feel about them. Enjoy yourself.


From the September 2011 issue of the Shambhala Sun. Click here to browse the entire issue online.

John Tarrant, Roshi, directs the Pacific Zen Institute, has a Ph.D. in psychology, and after teaching Zen in a traditional way for twenty years, developed a new way of teaching koans that opens them to people with no experience of meditation. He is the author of Bring Me The Rhinoceros & Other Zen Koans That Will Save Your Life.

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