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Zen, Feldenkrais and Paradox: The Unborn Mind

(part 1 of 3 writings)

March, 2012

In 1982, I was sitting with Moshe Feldenkrais in his apartment on Frug St. in Tel Aviv, (I recently heard there is now a plaque outside this building commemorating this remarkable man). As I sit here in California 30 years later, I am once again intrigued by one of his statements. We were discussing my Zen meditation practice and how it connects with my work as a Feldenkrais practitioner. From prior conversations, he knew that sitting meditation was of great importance to me. At the time, if asked, I would say that I stood on two legs: one called meditation- the study of movement within stillness and the other called the Feldenkrais Method- a study of stillness within movement.

We sat facing each other at his simple desk, a large, wall-size, floor-to-ceiling bookcase behind him laden with books. Without looking up he said, "go to the lower right section of the bookcase, about 3 or 4 rows from the bottom and about a meter from the wall, pull out a small black book". Following his direction, I found a slim volume by a Japanese Zen master living in Jerusalem. As he would often do, Moshe asked me to read the book as I sat across from him at his desk. He had met with this master and was curious about my impression. When I finished, I expressed my gratitude for the emphasis placed on authentic, personal experience that Zen masters including this man express. He looked up and said "if I did not have my own teaching, I would study Zen because- they are the only one's who really understand and appreciate paradox".

This comment still lives for me. Feldenkrais could live easily with inherent contradictions. He would say things like "to really be helpful, you can't care whether a person gets better". Or "it is impossible to change people, though they can transform". He enjoyed, and more, deeply valued the great importance of living in the discomfort of paradox.

There is a paradox that lives in my heart each day. I can state it like this, how does one embody the unconditional gratitude that naturally arises from experiencing the shower of blessings that are always present while simultaneously seeing all the destruction and suffering on this planet? Love and peace are always available even when sorrow is also present. One does not fight "what is" even when the circumstances are unpleasant or undesirable. When one begins to live in gratitude, even challenging moments are filled with "unfathomable blessings".

I recently heard the story of a very spiritually evolved couple who lost their child in a car crash. Without hiding from the grief and loss, the ground beneath their feet seems to be the gratitude for the "Being" they got to share their lives with and an inner confidence in the unfolding of Life itself. Can one imagine a greater testament to "bowing to Life"? Of course, there is also as much space as needed for yelling at God or at Life, let's not exclude these responses! Still, can we see the possibility of putting the living reality of our situations higher than our desire and our preferences without turning that into denial or avoidance?

Over the next weeks I will be writing about Zen Master Bankei's famous teaching of "the Unborn Mind". So much changes when we deeply appreciate this realization of the "unborn, undying" which is the Zen way of asking us to break through, under the bottom of the bottom, to our True Self. Paradoxically, the extraordinary opaqueness of the teaching turns into transparency. We are never separate from "unborn-ness". Remembering this is liberating. How can we know the Unborn mind and what does this knowing invite in us?

Please reflect on all this and I will write further on the Unborn Mind next week.

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