Isn’t it amazing the times we notice seemingly unrelated events unfold, only to discover their chain of events are not only related, but life changing? This is one of those times.
My teachers say koans are transformative. They are. In one fell swoop my formal koan practice with Layman P’ang and what I call 12 & Zen (where, in a small group, we sit with a Step and a koan) merged. Included in this mix are three friends, meeting level with Suzanne’s words, the 10th Step, the 7th Step, and a newly exposed character defect of mine.
At this past October’s 12 & Zen group we sat with Step 10: “Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it;” but it was Layman P’ang’s koan that rocked my boat, not the one we sat with that Friday evening.
As many of you know, besides 12 & Zen, I continue with my formal Zen practice working with several teachers in koan study. I was moving onto the next koan from the book “The Sayings of Layman P’ang” translated by James Green and his dialogue with P’ u-chi entitled “Open or Closed?” For those who are not familiar with koan study, please remember that the koan is always about you. You are at the center of each koan. Another aspect when sitting with koans is that any part of a koan, even a small phrase or single word is still the koan.
As I began reading, I couldn’t get past the first sentence. I was blown away when I read: “I don’t care to see old man know-it-all today.” Not only am I an old man (I’m 75), I realized I-AM-A-KNOW-IT-ALL! And because of this, I suspect there are people out there who don’t want to see me today. A surprising relief washed over when I took ownership and admitted this to myself --because I know there’s something I can do about it.
Then three of my friends came to mind. The very ones that at different times within the past few months have said in effect, “You’re such a know-it-all. One of them said, “You really know a lot, don’t you?” I made some feeble reply that I try to know the facts. At the time, their words didn’t resonate. But all of their responses must have been residing in the back of my mind like a kind of software that reveals clues of itself then disappears, only to pop up another day.
The more I read on, the more I realized how this koan was overlapping in my life and conditions.
“How do you know whether it’s Open or Closed?”
- I’m right and you’re wrong. You’re right and I’m wrong.
- When I’m open to not getting in the last word, our conversations usually remain open and free flowing.
- When I insist on proving I have the right answers, our exchange contracts. I’m closing the door to our conversation.
- I’m open to not being a know-it-all and closed to being a know-it-all.
“You’ve been playing me for a fool all along.”
- I’m only fooling myself being a know-it-all.
- There’s no way I help others this way.
I don’t need to be “right” all the time. I don’t need to get in the last word. It’s not my job to correct others’ statements. I don’t have to play Captain FactCheck anymore. The thought of being a know-it-all is uncomfortable for me now. It’s not like I plan my day around it. What is this about me that insists that others hear my facts? As the Big Book often points out, it probably has to do with a self-centered fear. I’m an alcoholic. I don’t want to be a know-it all anymore.
In Step 10 it states, “When we were wrong, promptly admitted it.” I know what to do. When the time came, I said to my friends, “First, I’d like to thank you for pointing out a character defect of mine, and secondly, I need to apologize for my behavior. I am a know-it-all.”
Then, remembering Step 7, if I truly want to improve upon my character, I need to humbly ask my Higher Power to remove my shortcomings. All of this requires daily attention and is now integrated into my spiritual practice.
And speaking about spiritual practice brings up what Suzanne said, from something she saw on Facebook. It was another Ah-HAH moment that ties all of this together.
The most important spiritual growth
doesn’t happen when you’re meditating or on a yoga mat.
It happens in the midst of conflict -- when you’re frustrated,
angry or scared and you’re doing the same old thing,
and then you suddenly realize that you have a choice to do it differently,
or think about it differently,
or “be” about it differently.
My Dear Friends,
If, in the past you have thought of me as a know-it-all, I sincerely apologize. And since old habits are hard to change, every now and then I may again fall back into past behavior. If I happen to be with you at the time, where you recognize my know-it-all habit returning, please give me a spiritual nudge by saying, “Hey Bill, is your door open or closed?” Then, hopefully we'll have a good laugh together.
Formal koan practice, Layman P’ang’s koan, 12 & Zen, three friends calling me out, admitting my shortcoming, Step 10, Step 7, a meeting and Suzanne’s words -- It’s been quite a ride these past few weeks.
Thank you my friends and thank you Mr. P’ang. This is truly living!