Having recently reconnected with this hope of becoming redundant and finding it still on my mind as I was mowing the yard earlier, I found myself pondering the systems of dependency we have in our lives. There are the external systems: institutions of faith, society, cultures, consumerism, etc. And there are the internal systems that we ourselves build over our lifetimes, becoming our habits of thought, action, perceptions, etc.. Part of a meditation practice is becoming aware of these systems and noticing how some might support us while others might hinder us. Looking into these matters, our relationship to these institutions naturally transform: some drop away by themselves, some we work to dismantle and release, some we allow to be enhanced and fortified. Along with this transformation of the relationship comes a transformation in our dependency upon them, even the helpful ones, and over time we come to realize that we essentially need not depend upon anything.
That sounds a bit harsh, so to expand upon it, it is to realize there is nothing particular upon which we need to depend; we needn't narrow the field of our options and what is available to us. Not narrowing the field, we find that what we need is always at hand, we are able to meet it fully and directly and access it, receiving support and nourishment. We don't have to hold onto it - it is always here. And if we are holding onto it, dependent upon it, we might miss out on meeting the next thing that comes to us and makes itself available. This calls to mind the adage about needing to use a raft to cross a river. Once the river is crossed, you don't strap the raft to your back and carry it with you - you leave it behind. Perhaps as you enter the path into the trees beyond the river you pick up a walking stick, using it to help you navigate the way ahead. And when it's time to put that down, you do, then move ahead to see what awaits. Journeying along like this, with hands and eyes open, you can trust that what awaits, what you need, will find you. It's already here.
There's a Zen story about the student of a teacher who died, in which this student one day enters the meditation hall with a spade, walking from side to side, looking all around. His friend was sitting in the meditation hall and asks:
"What are you doing?"
"I'm searching for our old teacher's sacred bones."
"Floods reach the horizon, whitecaps drown the sky. What sort of teacher's
sacred bones are you looking for?"
"This is really good; it makes me strong."
Later, someone else said, "Our teacher's sacred bones are still here."*
I've long been curious about and appreciative of the statement "this is really good; it makes me strong." Is he referring to the words that his friend offered, did they snap him out of something and wake him up? Or is he explaining that his activity of searching the hall with spade in hand is simply what he needs to do, and by allowing himself to do it he is fortified? Or is he strengthened by connecting deeply with the feeling of loss and longing for his teacher, by not trying to manage or control those feelings but instead allowing them to spur on this strange behavior? It seems to me it is all of these; they are all in the field of what is happening. By abiding intimately and openly in that field, not rejecting or trying to fix anything, depending upon nothing, he is welcoming what each of these is offering. And it helps.
To be clear about this "depending upon nothing," it is not about distancing ourselves from life or detaching from it or getting rid of any part of it. Rather, it's quite the opposite. It's about being fully immersed in life and all that comprises it; it's about abiding with the whole of life from our particular place within it; it's about allowing the field to remain vast and broad, not narrowing it down with our selecting and rejecting, welcoming what comes, meeting it and working with it as we must, in deep relationship with existence itself. And through such a relationship, we find that in all places, at all times, across varying circumstances, we always have just what we need, and it carries us through.
The empty, aching space within your chest at the loss of a loved one - just what you need, carrying you through.
The flash of angry heat through your body and the thoughts and words that spill out as a result - just what you need, carrying you through.
The unexpected and un-asked for joy and gratitude that arise when you simply look out upon the day - just what you need, carrying you through.
The embrace from a friend, the harsh words from a lover, the unencumbered laughter from children playing - just what you need, carrying you through.
The dripping black heart spray-painted on a trail marker when I was out for a walk, and the bench upon which I sat and rested later - just what I needed, carrying me through.
The twittering of birds at the feeder, floating into the house as I write this, just what I need, carrying me through, calling me on to what awaits...
*adapted from Joan Sutherland and John Tarrant's translation of The Blue Cliff Record, Case 55: Daowu and Jianyuan Offer Condolences