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Barbara O'Brien

Practice as Tenderizer

By July 10, 2012

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I said in the last post that I was going to write about no escape. And I am, but a funny thing happened on the way to the "no escape" post. As I looked for teachings about "no escape" I kept running into teachings about being tender.

Example: Awhile back Pema Chodron wrote a lovely little book called The Wisdom of No Escape.  Some of you have probably read it. Very simply, in this book she points out that people usually want to escape. They want to escape pain, their lives, even themselves.  She makes the interesting point that when people engage in spiritual practice to become "better," the practice can be "a kind of subtle aggression against who they really are."

The antidote to this subtle aggression is loving kindness, including loving kindness to ourselves. We accept ourselves, and then we stop shielding ourselves from pain. We allow the tender parts of ourselves to be open and vulnerable.

In the book I mentioned yesterday, The Third Turning of the Wheel, Reb Andersen makes a similar point. "Suzuki Roshi also said that zazen is a tenderizer," Reb Andersen writes. "I know from my own experience that if we sit still and quiet with other people for a while, we all become more and more tender."

Andersen Roshi says that when he checks people's postures at the beginning of a retreat, their backs are hard and rigid. "I feel a kind of toughness at the beginning of the sittings. But after several days, I can feel the bodies of the meditators have become tender," he writes.

I found a similar point in a dharma talk by Geoffrey Shugen Arnold, titled "The Freedom of No Escape." He said, "Zazen is to sit in the midst of the entire universe with every gate open. ... to see that there is no escape is the beginning of true liberation."

The last post pointed to the misconception that Buddhism is about detaching from the world and numbing oneself from pain. But what these teachers are saying is just the opposite. You cannot detach, any more than you can detach a wave from the ocean. And instead of numbing oneself, the path requires us to be more tender, open, and vulnerable.

July 13, 2012 at 8:19 pm
(1) donald cook says:

Greetings, Barbara, and thankYou for all You do to clarify the Buddha Dharma!
Every day, i work with people who have depersonalized to one level or another; they do this to not be hurt by various forms of abuse. It can take months or years to bring such a person back in touch with themselves. The difference between non-attachment and depersonalization is huge. Within depersonalization, one keeps everything, and every being (including themselves), at arm’s length, never participating fully in life. With non-attachment, one has no choice but to participate in every facet of life, hurtful or not. It is form-nature to depersonalize; it is not form-nature to practice non-attachment, and learn dealing with pain.

July 22, 2012 at 12:25 pm
(2) elbbono says:

I really enjoyed this article. I hope to turn my practice into one that tenderizes me, rather than one that simply shields me from life.

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