There is a huge, infinite “space” – a sort of atavistic emptiness that in some places can be perceived by everyone. There are many places in the world where this can be perceived and from where the difference manifests itself. In such a place, it is possible to immerse ourselves, never mind the situation, never mind the place. This is what Zen teaches us in theory and practice – especially practice, because Zen is the way of practice, of action.
Finding such a place, inside of us, what in many traditions is called the “center of permanent gravity”, it is possible to observe our mind transforming and adapting itself to the reception of “secrets” that otherwise remain hidden and inaccessible to the ordinary senses – the place where the Eternal dwells and where it is possible to experience the no- time, the perfect time.
Many traditions and many teachers spoke about this huge and empty inner space. The commonly known “tea ceremony”, which real name is chádào, is an example of finding this space in everyday actions. The tea room (sukiya) is the architectonic representation of the consciousness that can perceive in the emptiness – the place of pacification where can flow the immediate and unconditioned perception of the present moment.
Walking silently through the stone path that leads to the ceremony place, feet moves consciously on the stones that are intentionally spaced in a way that seems random, though in that way, the attention is brought to the space between the stones; it’s interesting to notice this detail, because this seeking for the external spaces is what to remember so that we may find the inner space (what Gurdjieff used to call reminders).
This is the path of the “lost steps” that leads to the wooden house which, in order to access, it is necessary to bow because the door is so small. This is another reminder that invites the practice to the emptiness, and in this case in the form of a reminder of its illusory personality filled by imaginations and self- considering. Who walks through this door can do it only by bowing in front of the space – empty of any specific attribute, reminding himself of the presumed enormity of his personality which is only a mere illusion that wobbles in the vastness of nothingness.
But there’s another step, before walking through this door: the guest has to wait silently on the porch (machiai) where he must await the formal invitation to enter. Even this is a specific moment intentionally produced in which the mind releases every known image, every reference, every association. Only after this path, the guest will have the possibility to access the tea ceremony and sit in the sukiya where, once more, everything is predisposed to not fill the spaces and allow the guests to seek, find and experience the no-time, the present moment.
What can be noticed from the beginning is the ritualization of daily activities, what ordinarily could be defined as routines. In such a way, without making any theatricals, (typical behavior of the Western world in which those who claim to follow a “spiritual path” must be noticed by others as so) that could only lead us to earn a weekend (or more) in an asylum. The above mentioned intentionality can be brought to the simple action of drinking, for example, a coffee. Indeed, performing a ritual is not something so strange to the Western world, even if it could see. All our life is filled by all sorts of rituals. Drinking a coffee is a ritual. Women’s makeup is a ritual. The same act of seducing someone is a ritual. The only thing we have to do is to put inside these rituals which lacks an intention and a reason. That is the reason why we state that Zen is a practice that could teach so much to the Western world. Zen could allow access to spaces, dimensions, worlds that otherwise are ignored and which many people feel to have disappeared from the contemporary world. No, such “places” exist, and this writer supports this statement. Such spaces still inhabit the modern dimension, and they lie beyond (or behind) appearances – the surface of what appears to be, because we are usually unable to grasp them, because we are not disposed to allow our inner spaces to remain opened in order to grasp this presence. In such limitation, fear has the main rule. But this is another story yet to be confronted.
Who would not want to live with presence, emptiness, and balance in his daily life, even when things and situations take a wrong turn? Who wouldn’t want to live in such a way? Maybe, some would not; and some would.
The greatest part of the beauty that can be experienced during a day, relationships with others included, is denied by the failed connection with ourselves intended as our deepest self. Not knowing how to become more intimate with this inner field, we are unable to be intimate even with those closest to us. And this loss reflects itself in every field of our life. The capacity to act in an unconditioned, kind and conscious way lies in ourselves, but it’s confined to the deepest part of what we are, of what really represents us: our essence, our real I.
It’s true, we are not free, we are conditioned by fears, timidity, suspicion, and the difficulty to approach others in an open way, are the results of the fact of how far we are from ourselves, how little we are in touch with what we are. Even in a love relationship, many people let pass too much time before facing problems that generate anger, resentments, sufferings, and misunderstandings which usually brings divorce or the end of a relationship. And all this is because we are unable to create an open relation with what we really are, and consequently, with others.
In order to fill this loss, we fill the emptiness with every kind of diversion: even during a speech we can speak about everything, except about ourselves. Others do the same. So we speak and listen about all and everything except what concerns the intimacy of ourselves and others.
A conversation is usually only a product of an outlet that generates in the listener, the patient waiting for the end of it. Once ended, the listener becomes the speaker and he acts in the same way.
Beyond all these inner and outer manifestations, fears, anger, and suspicion, lies the present moment, the infinite one – the silence people usually wish to escape in order to not feel the lack they bring with and in themselves.
I remember the periods when I used to participate once a month in some Zen meditative retreats, the sesshins. During these days, we used to wake up at four in the morning, drinking just a tea, then entered the dojo, where we performed zazen (the Zen meditative practice), for hours. The sessions were spaced out from the kin-hin, a dynamic meditational technique that consists of a very slow walking linked with correct breathing. These sessions usually lasted four or five hours.
After the sessions, and after a little rest walking in nature, there was the lunch time, then two hours of break and then another session until dinner.
Such kind of practices are performed with the total reduction of every kind of diversion (no speech about sport, politics, the economy, etc…) – almost always in the complete silence and with few hours of sleep.
Even if these routines could be intense and could allow us to get in touch with our deeper, intimate field, I noticed that for many people, this wasn’t perceived as an inner experience but as a deprivation of their habits, mechanicity, and identifications; and they suffered from this deprivation to the degree that to make them feel a spiritual experience was something psychologically devastating.
This led me to the conclusion that, even if such experiences are theoretically possible to all, they are not within everyone’s range. A degree of inner maturity is required.
But Zen is not only meditation, koans and drinking tea in a mindful way; for the zen practicing every daily manifestation, every moment of our life and life itself is experienced from this place of stillness, this emptiness, the essence. And all becomes a supreme act of which the various disciplines are only part.
So, there is a way to clean a room, to wash the dishes, to set out a garden, packaging a gift, to organize and serve a lunch, administer a business and even a blog page. Simplicity is the main attribute of this path: forms and gestures flow without attraction or rejection of the mind of the experiencer.
The only part of us that seems to be involved is our heart, because we are unable to believe the ease with which we can feel in this simplicity – how much such simplicity could reveal a caring, a love with which even the most subtle detail has been prepared for the one who experiences it.