Working with Emotions in Zen practice (and beyond…)
Recently I have been teaching from the case Seijo and her Soul are Separated. In this case (#35 in the Mumonkan, Gateless Gate) a woman’s feelings of family obligations conflict with her passion to fulfill her adult life and marry her true love. While it is interesting that this Case was written with a female character, in fact, it is about how feelings of fulfillment, feelings of obligation and passion arise–seemingly pulling us apart. This is certainly true for both men and women, and knowing our emotions well is part of our practice. When we feel the powerful pull of an emotion, it is usual constrained by a seemingly important obligation or limitation. How do these two emotional parts work to pull us apart? Like wild horses, we create them and then struggle with the effects of being pulled in different directions. How do we unify with sufficient wisdom to see the limited and false choices created by the emotions which are unintegrated with our inherent wisdom? This is the point of practice, we are actually not in the business of suppressing our feelings and becoming Zen Zombies. Feelings teach us somethig, each contains wisdom, and we need to carefully study them to practice sincerely. As Dong-shan said “Turning away and touching are both wrong, for it is like a massive fire.” To develop in Zen practice, we can neither repress nor act out–a bigger view with full integration of these split off parts is our aim.
In Seijo and her soul, her seemingly impossible situation is only resolved when she develops enough stability to have perspective on her emotions and her choices. She chooses to reintegrate/revisit the conflicts with more maturity and wisdom. The important point here is that she did not ignore her feelings, and even though she initially acted out to relieve her conflicted emotions, she found a way to make sense of her life and respect her feelings. Later, she developed a larger view that included all of her feelings, her own false limitations, and found a way to become whole.
Wishing you the same in Dharma,