Every time we sit down in meditation we are challenged to face our shit. What is really going on in our body-mind? What ideas are we stubbornly holding onto? What are we afraid of? What would we rather not deal with – anger, resentment, longing, dissatisfaction, numbness? What, or who, are we rejecting? What aspect of our lives makes us want to act selfishly or childishly – by throwing a tantrum, blaming others, or refusing to participate?
We don’t have go seeking for our shit when we meditate. Zazen, seated meditation, doesn’t have to become a grim session of taking account of how crappy our life is or how flawed we are. We also need to be open to awareness of the joy and positivity in our life; we have to be completely open to awareness of everything as it is. However, we are much more likely to be open to the positive stuff than we are to the negative stuff, so facing the shit takes some intention and courage.
I like to think of “opening the doors of my mind” during zazen to whatever might wander in. The Zen ceremony of Segaki ritually enacts this process when the doors of the temple are opened wide and the hungry ghosts – or manifestations of unresolved stuff – are invited to enter. It is surprising how effective this ceremony is. Many people report unresolved stuff coming up for them as they sit zazen in the day-long retreat that follows the ceremony in my tradition. In the evening there is a ceremony to send the “ghosts” on their way, but it often takes much longer to become familiar with a new ghost, learn what it has to teach, and then take the actions necessary to truly send it away.
When I open the doors of my mind as I settle on the meditation cushion, I always feel some trepidation. What am I going to discover? What am I going to have to deal with? Am I going to have to change?
When I finally summon the courage to face my shit I am always surprised to find that – no matter how bad it is – it is less anxiety-provoking to face it than it is to avoid it. Finding something behind the door can be scary and might require serious action, but in the long run it’s better than sensing there’s something behind the door but just wondering how terrifying it might be. When we really face our shit there is often some sense of relief. In addition, avoiding or denying parts of our reality increases our sense of separation or isolation from our whole life and from the people and situations we encounter. When we are one with our shit we are more fully present with everything.
When trying to summon the courage to face our shit during meditation (or anytime) it can be helpful to recall the sense of relief or presence that can be achieved by doing so. Sometimes it also helps to imagine the worst that is likely to come through the doors of our mind and ask ourselves if it would be the end of the world (it rarely would be). Alternatively we might talk ourselves into facing our shit by noticing how tired we are of running away from it.
Once we are determined to be still no matter what comes at us, we expand our awareness by letting go of any idea about our life, our body-mind, or what we should or should not be experiencing at this moment. Then our shit can arise and find itself recognized and embraced – because, after all, it’s not coming at us from outside, it was already here.