A companion to the non-recipe of Zen is deconstruction, which I find to be at the core of the practice, through my own experience plus in what I've heard from and seen in others. Recently I began to be curious about why deconstruction feels like such an essential component of living a human life. A response arose rather quickly. Much of human life involves construction, as it is central and necessary to our existence. It begins as early as a newborn establishing associations between the cry it makes and being fed or given a fresh diaper in response, is present as we develop a sense of self through becoming aware of our environment and our place in it, and supports us as we learn how to function within our families and communities. All of these activites and more foster the development of ideas about who we are and what the world is, and how to be and act effectively within it.
It seems that construction and deconstruction start out as partners in the journey of a life, evidenced in the process of trial and error - developing ideas, testing them, dismantling them, building them differently when they don't work, reinforcing them more strongly when they do. Yet at some point this fluid process tends to become more solid, the things we construct becoming more deeply established and dominating the territory, and those things which used to serve to challenge and create opportunity for growth start to be viewed as threats, leading us to defend and protect what we have built. What was once an easy flow within the partnership of construction and deconstruction turns to friction, at odds with one another. It takes a lot of energy to uphold and protect what we've established, which may seem worth the effort for a while, yet in time we may feel the dis-ease and dissatisfaction of such of life. To address this, it seems only natural that we welcome our old friend deconstruction back into the fold. We need simply open to door to it, as deconstruction is not something that one does, for that would in essence be a construction project in disguise. It is something that is allowed to happen in and of itself, within the space we encounter through meditation.
A lot takes place in that space and, in the spirit of no-recipe, there is not a specific order or timing or guarantee of how things will unfold there. But I won't let that stop me from bringing up what meditation practice offers in general, using a broad brush as I do so. One thing that happens is we become aware of the concepts and constructs we are living with, and simply having this awareness allows us to disconnect from them to varying degrees, becoming curious observers not as strongly tied to them as we had been moments before, the territory beginning to open and expand. The workings of deconstruction take place in this openness, showing us that ideas we have about ourselves, others and the world are not as solid as we may have thought them to be, and we see that they are provisional, malleable. As the dismantling proceeds we notice we have been perpetuating some thoughts and actions that have outgrown their use, having moved into the realm of reactivity and habit, and as these are allowed to drop away we reconnect with the original function and purpose we were trying to develop in the first place. Our perspective grows larger, and when our gaze is lifted beyond these specific components of our lives, we see that there is a wider territory in which they exist, revealing possibilities unthought-of or forgotten over the course of a life.
In this vast, unbound territory we find a lot of freedom, a familiar freedom which is ours to reclaim, or perhaps it is reclaiming us. The thought of remaining here can be enticing, and some might say the point of deconstruction is to get to and remain at this point, not to take up the construction projects anymore, not to rely or depend upon anything. But not a lot happens in this place, and it’s not very useful when it stands alone and apart from our lives. And as mentioned above, construction is a central part of life, providing us with the tools and knowledge to get things done, to relate to others, to be effective and make a difference in our world. So of course that process will get underway once again, and we welcome its presence just as we welcome deconstruction. Yet when the cogs and gears of construction kick in once again, the process is informed by the experience of the open field we arrived at through deconstruction, and the two are partners once again. As the rebuilding moves forward from this place, we find things are put together a little more loosely, with gaps and cracks that allow light and fresh breezes to find their way in; our constructions tend to be less elaborate, keeping to the beautiful simplicity of relevant usefulness; having seen the wider territory, we realize that instead of not depending on anything we can make use of everything, trusting that what we require will be there at the right time, readily at hand and for just as long as needed. Our energy is no longer tied up with protecting or perpetuating our ideas and constructs, freeing us to more effectively and genuinely collaborate with life itself.
Looking back on all of this, one might say that there is a recipe or formula being offered, and I'd agree to an extent. Practicing meditation - which I like to present as simply sitting down, being still, being quiet and paying attention - seems to be a recipe of sorts. However, this doesn't require bringing in anything that one doesn't already have, nor is it the product of any one tradition, despite the fact that I am coming from a Zen perspective, with it's particular forms and flavors and trappings. The simplicity of meditation exists beneath those, the relationship being as provisional as that between ourselves and our ideas about life. To me, meditation is a very human thing to do, bringing to mind the simple awareness of an infant in the initial stages of figuring out for itself just what this life is. I'd further clarify that this formula for meditation is not for moving forward but instead for moving downward, inward, into the is-ness of life. This certainly helps to clear the way for moving forward, but once having done so there is no "and then" given to us - we are free to move forward on our own, unhindered.
Another component of this formula is trust, and its workings within meditation differ throughout the process. It is something we may have to bring along with us as we enter into a meditation practice, trusting that what it has offered to countless people in the centuries before will be offered to us as well, relevant and alive. It is something we can lean into as our practice moves along, looking much different that we expected (as will most certainly be the case), trusting that what we are encountering and being offered is useful, helpful. And as we move forward into the unknown, undiscovered, yet-to-be, we find that we no longer need to carry this trust around with us as we had before, that it is inherent, rising to meet and support us moment by moment, life itself becoming that one thing upon which we can always depend.