“I want you,” I think to myself. “Why?”
Why do I want her? Why do these old feelings always come circling back around long after they’ve mellowed into friendly versions of themselves? Why does my mind fill with images of intimate moments that have never been and never will be? Not with her, anyway. Because she can’t feel that way for me.
Deep breath in. Deep breath out. My nose knows the score. The wind in my nostrils, my rising and falling abdomen, my ass on the chair—cutting through the bullshit. I guess, in a time when frowns come easily, I remember how easy it was for her to make me smile. My mind moves from all the grotesque things I’ve seen to the alluring beauty of her penetrating eyes.
It’s possible to be close friends with someone you were in love with, but occasionally you have to reel yourself in.
That’s tough to do, because it feels so good to be in love, to want, to imagine. But these feelings don’t serve me well. Instead of telling me about the needs of some current guest at this inn, they go on and on about someone who isn’t here, a guest who could be or should be.
The person she is isn’t the person I want her to be. That’s on me, that’s my baggage, my dreams. Breathing in, where is she? Breathing out, just a dream, just a dream.
Now that the services are done, now that the Murder Room is another faint memory, I find myself confronted with old habits. The blood-soaked sheets interrupted all the confused thoughts that were circling around my head. Now that I’ve let my guard down, they’re all trying to swarm back in.
No. I’m not putting that mask back on. I’m not reading those lines, not picking up where I left off. If there’s anything that that tragic loss has given me, it’s the ability to say, “No.” As masters of our own house, yes and no are the greatest tools at our disposal. The doors are ours to open and close, the staff ours to instruct, and the guests ours to accommodate.
When we don’t remember that we’re the masters of our minds, then we become servants to the servants.
We’re led around by our thoughts, feelings, and impulses. We grow into a mixed bag of things that we were born with, and things that other people and situations have pawned off on us.
Zen asks me to always be reading the room and act accordingly. If someone needs me to be a guest, I’m a guest. If they need me to be a servant, then I’m a servant. But when it comes to our own minds, our responsibility is to always be the master. All our suffering in life comes from not listening to what the moment calls for, and not trusting our basic nature to light the way.
As my thoughts and feelings turn back to her, I realize that I’ve forgotten my duties. What does a good master do? A good master watches, a good master assesses, and—based on that rather than pressure from people, prejudices, or preferences—a good master says yes or no. Remembering that I’m the master is all it takes for everything to fall in line.
“Since there’s no self in Buddhism, then who the fuck is this master you’re talking about?”
That’s the million dollar question. By definition, it isn’t anything that we can see, hear, think, or feel. Our senses are like doors. Sights, sounds, smells, flavors, and touch are like guests. Feelings, thoughts, and desires are like the staff. All of them are coming and going all day long. Even the thought, “I’m the master,” isn’t the master. Even the willpower that puts everything in its proper place isn’t the master.
Yet if there wasn’t a master at all, then there would be no way to work through all this pain and confusion. So, who am I?
I’m like a light in a room that shines on everything without picking and choosing. I’m not self-sufficient, I was passed forward by my parents like two candles lighting one wick. If I’m flickering or dim, then the servants in this house can’t do their work, and the guests all give bad Yelp reviews. There’s chaos and confusion, complaints and catastrophes.
When I’m stable and bright, everything functions in-step to the point that yes and no are no longer needed. This isn’t a self, it’s a principle—a Way. The wind blows and the lungs breathe; rain falls and my blood flows; the sun shines and my body heats the seat.
Freedom is seeing that there is no cell. This body is One Body, this mind is One Mind.
Ordinarily, we’re like rain that’s worried about where it falls, a puddle that’s concerned about what it reflects or where it goes when it evaporates. The puddle isn’t the puddle, it’s the entire water cycle. Knowing that, it’s always the master in whatever form it takes. I just have to remember to not be preoccupied puddle concerns.
Remembering that, I can enjoy the fourth aspect of being a master: leisure. Instead of chanting a mantra or labeling your thoughts, I recommend kicking your feet up and taking a nap. Have some lunch, go for a drive, and breathe. A master is someone who has nothing to do, everything is taken care of.
The only thing that prevents us from taking that rightful role in our own minds, is believing that we can’t.
Editor: Dana Gornall
Anshi (安狮) is the pen name for a certain Chan Buddhist. He calls his introspective, autobiographical writing, “Living Dharma.” All names are changed to protect the privacy of those involved. If you know who Anshi is, please refrain from telling anyone. Feel free to check out his Facebook page.
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