Entering the Stream
Practicing can be difficult, even when we know “why,” “what,” and “how” to do it!
Before we can get to any of that, there are more important first steps. We must:
a) recognize our personal need for practice
b) pick a practice to try
Most people will only be reading this because they feel that they need a practice, and some because they are considering, or are already, practicing meditation, Zen, or some other form of Buddhism. Regardless of your level of experience or intentions, it’s valuable to bring these topics into focus and I’m eager to share my experience with them.
In typical zen fashion, we begin with the inquiry: “What is really going on here?”
Why do we feel a need to do something to change our life circumstances? What is the problem? This can be very specific, like a certain set of time-bound issues or a goal related to external circumstances. Or, it can be more of a vague, but acute, sense of something deeply troubling with no clear solution. It can be anywhere between these two extremes as well.
Once one comes into clarity around the motivation to take up a practice, ideally a few things arise:
A sense of urgency to resolve the issue.
A sense of doubt that the problem must persist.
A sense of belief and self-empowerment to do something.
A resoluteness and passion to resolve the problem.
In my experience, the hardest part is step 3 – belief and self-empowerment to do something. Prior to taking up Hollow Bones Zen practice, I had many, many moments of urgency and doubt – even many moments of resoluteness and passion. Most of the time it all just faded away and the old life continued with all its same problems. I’d use other means to numb out, look away, or cope that never changed anything. Eventually I would just try to cut out that part of life, avoiding it.
The thing that really made the difference was finding a way into belief and self-empowerment. The first time I found it was when I committed to entering couples therapy with my wife and finding a good counselor. Unfortunately, I remained skeptical right until the first meeting, which is considered a major hindrance according to our teachings. However, when we created a plan and I became confident in our facilitator, the entire experience shifted. This was an appropriate practice for the problem – we had a specific issue and we needed specific skills to work through it. Once we did, the stress of having the problem was relieved and we became empowered to resolve the issue with focus.
The second time was when I committed to Zen. This time the problem was the dynamics of my family of origin and deep depression. It was, in truth, an existential crisis. Here the promise of liberation from personal suffering that underpins Buddhism is what attracted me, and Zen was a flavor/method of meditation that I was already familiar with. Finding Hollow Bones Zen was exactly the bridge I needed, as meditation became a powerful tool to shift from dissociative spiritual bypassing to actively shifting perspectives and reconstructing the conditioning that causes the various forms of suffering in my life. When I saw the opportunity for this shift, there was nothing that could stop me from practice.
The key to believing in a way out and feeling empowered to actualize change in my life lay in committing to a practice method. In some cases, the practice method is specifically suited to address a particular shortcoming. In other cases, it’s more spiritually oriented and aimed at fundamental shifts in perspective. Either way, it’s all about identifying something one can take up to address the issue and get started, no matter how helpless we may feel. Just one step in any direction is an empowering movement. Breaking the inertia, no longer repeating the same unsuccessful patterns over and over again, is essential to entering the stream.
One practice – in fact, perhaps the “inertia breaking” practice in Buddhism – is to go for refuge. In many circles, this very practice is stream entry. If you feel the pull to liberation from suffering by ending confusion about this reality, regardless of whatever suffering is motivating you, then I invite you to go for refuge.
We can do it right here and right now.
With deep sincerity and absolute conviction, try to recite the following:
I take refuge in the Buddha, the historical teacher, who demonstrated this way.
I take refuge in the Dharma, the historical teachings, that outline this way.
I take refuge in the Sangha, the community of practitioners, that walk with me on this way.
I take refuge in Buddha, the teacher within, who illuminates this way.
I take refuge in Dharma, the reality within, which provides all I need on this way.
I take refuge in Sangha, those who have gone before me, who protect me on the way.
I completely take refuge in the absolute purity of this awakened mind.
I completely take refuge in this practice of pure selfless awareness, wisdom, compassion and skillful means.
I completely take refuge in the realization of the interpenetration, interconnection and interdependency of all sentient and insentient beings everywhere.
How, then, should one truly embark on this journey?
Through a spirit of inquiry.
Inquire into your own experience by pausing, even if just for a moment, and watching the body be breathed. (Buddha)
Breathing in, the breath is …
Breathing out, the breath is …
Inquire into the teachings by exploring the wonderful offerings available in books, podcasts, online trainings and so much more. (Dharma)
Inquire into a local practice community, teacher, or online sangha to find connection and support with others on the way. (Sangha)
Having taken refuge and entered the stream I welcome you to this practice. A practice that includes the entire experience of being human on a transcendent path of wisdom and compassion. A way of being that commits to fully embodying the joy of life, even in the midst of its ever-changing, ever-challenging interplay of circumstances.