The art of Zen meetings
At the Buddhist monastery, Thursday mornings are for meetings. Straight after breakfast the residents settle down around the impressive wooden table. Then one of the monks announces the order of the day …. And everyone holds their breath before getting stuck in.
Meetings – plunging straight into the heart of our emotions and cherished failures. Some years ago, when I blew up, defiantly, over this type of rigmarole, a venerable psychologist offered me the following explanation. A sort of gift – and a really precious one – for survival in a hostile environment.
Since I was a participant, here is an exclusive for you, dear reader of the Daily Zen blog. So, meetings, with all the participants sitting round the table , bring back memories of the family table of our childhood. This is why, years later, what’s at issue has nothing to do with making decisions or organising a monastery.
Keeping this in mind, analysing meetings is a very different activity.
On Thursday last, for example, one of the Buddhist monks – who is very involved – was complaining that he had too much work. “ I just can’t do it any more. Since the last retreat, I haven’t had a moment to myself, with all these new people to welcome and guide.. I have done everything and none of you was available to help me… It’s just not fair.” This monk, in a semi- permanent state of hyperactivity, just never stops. He runs around, organises things, carries on… even though very often no -one has asked him to. He always seems to be chasing an ideal image of himself as the good monk . A never ending pursuit, the quest for the Grail… And at heart, a semi- permanent dissatisfaction.
After his speech, the people present proposed some solutions : perhaps he could have someone to help him? His reply: it would be difficult to find truly motivated people. And if he took a bit of time out before retreats, to get some perspective and prepare himself calmly? His reply : OK , but if he had some free time, he’d like to get on with his sewing or tidying up his room, but not take time for personal things, oh no.
Some other proposals were made, but none was really acceptable. And yet … The monk finished the meeting with a smile on his lips. People had listened to him, had shared and heard his passing difficulties… the rest of the path was his to follow.