I am listening to Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, and I visualize him full of passion and longing and grief – a passion that brings forth this sad but beautiful music.
I struggle with this passion, a lifelong friend and challenger. What is this? What is this driving insatiableness? Earlier in life it felt like sexual desire. And now it doesn’t. I once was an actress, using this passion to express myself, but once the curtain fell, the thrill was gone, and the passion has been as strong as ever.
One of the greatest causes of suffering is the feeling that one’s life is unsatisfactory. So I cultivate gratitude as the antidote, but I know deep in my heart that I am still desperately dissatisfied. And then I am disturbed that I must not be grateful enough. What do I want? What would fill me up?
I am practicing Soto Zen from the same place of longing and passion. Zen could be seen as both easy and difficult. Easy because there is no dogma and no fixed beliefs to which I must subscribe. And this is a good thing, because I have arrived at a state of intellectual anarchy. And yet I have faith that sitting zazen is the way. To what?
Now that is the hard part. We are meaning constructing beings and our passion and longing is for some kind of coherence. Do we need this because of our certain death – and as an older person, I think of this daily – or because there is something we need to become, to actualize? Whenever I hear Mary Oliver’s line about how are we going to live “our one and precious life”, I cringe. Don’t remind me. I need to chill out around this. I need to relax. I shouldn’t take things so seriously.
Wouldn’t it be great if “just sitting” was enough? I think the spin on “just sitting” in Zen could mean to focus on zazen and not on scriptures or other forms. But the “just” might mean: drop all hope of identity and purpose in this lifetime. Drop all aspirations and longings and passions – even for the good stuff.
I think this is what Zen is about. Just being yourself. Clinging to nothing. Now we all know these words very well, but there is a reason that bodhisattvas are called “fearless.” Because if you really, really drop all hope for meaning and identity, you might end up in a very scary place.
On the other hand, passion and fire may be our very selves. To be alive is to be passionate. The practice may be just to sit with that passion and expect nothing.