This talk was originally given by Rev. angel Kyodo williams in 2006 at the New Dharma Meditation Center in Oakland, California. The Center’s focus is dedicated to supporting the inner lives of activists. They offer inner awareness practices and programs that allow social change agents to begin working from a place rooted in compassionate action. This talk points to the value of being who we are so that our true selves can be revealed.
Express yourself completely,
then keep quiet.
Be like the forces of nature:
when it blows, there is only wind;
when it rains, there is only rain;
when the clouds pass, the sun shines through.
If you open yourself to the [Way],
you are at one with the [Way]
and you can embody it completely.
If you open yourself to insight,
you are at one with insight
and you can use it completely.
If you open yourself to loss,
you are at one with loss
and you can accept it completely.
Open yourself to the [Way],
then trust your natural responses;
and everything will fall into place.
~Chapter 23, Tao Te Ching, translated by Stephen Mitchell
“Open yourself to the [Way], trust your natural responses; and everything will fall into place.” We have a hard time with that, probably all of it. We have a hard time with, first of all, opening ourselves to the Way. It feels like, well, where is it? Where is this Way? How do I get there? I will say [finding the Way is] somewhat like love, like true love–when you get there, you don’t wonder at all if you’re there. Great doubt is extinguished. So that might be a hint about where it’s not.
Our symbol for the meditation center is the Adinkra symbol for “dynamism” or “nkyinkyim.” It’s turned upside down and it’s fused into the ancient ideogram for the Way, the character of the Way, the Path. For me everything is about the Way. I feel like that’s what we’re doing here, we’re discovering the way with a capital “W.” So what might this Way be? Surely, all here practicing the Way know something about what it is or what it isn’t:
Practitioners offer their ideas
speaker 1: service
speaker4: right speech
speaker5: wise speech
It’s all of those things. What do they have in common? They all come naturally to us. They’re our basic nature. It is who we are.
I know that this particular culture we’re reared in tells us quite the opposite. There is the question of our basic evil nature that needs to be contained and controlled. This [the Way] is the non-evil nature zone. This is the basic goodness zone, where we recognize that these things are basic to us—natural. [They are] not things that we learn, not things that we have to figure out how to do, but rather that we clear away things that are in the way of them: the obscurations, the things that lead us into a misconception of the truth of who we really are. That’s the Way. The Way is to be who you are and who you have always been. That’s the only Way there is. So it suggests that your Way is different from your Way and it’s different from your Way, because it isn’t about you being me or her or anyone else.
It’s about your Way and clearing out everything that is in the way of that–everything–and just trying to be who we are, not trying to accomplish something, not trying to get someplace, not trying to become someone. You’re already someone. How much room do you have to be someone else? That’s like having two girlfriends or two boyfriends—it’s just too much work to deal with more than one self. Just be who you are, that’s the Way and then trust your natural responses.
That’s a really hard one, because we have been told that our natural responses may not be the right thing. Our natural responses might get us in trouble. And we have really been habituated into, in fact, not trusting our natural responses. We’ve been habituated and “learned” into a place in which our natural responses are set aside and exchanged for something that is cultivated and created in the mind and then projected out. And then, we spend all of our time trying to be in line with this mythic creation of ours, the idea of a self, an idea of who we should be. So it’s this figment of our imagination that we spend all of our time trying to be. Isn’t it just easier to let go of the figment? To let go of the ideas and just come back to who you are, to come back home? To just [be] this basic self in this body, right here, right now?
Someone always asks me, well, how do you do that? How do you not get caught up in that? And I [say], well, how do you get caught up in it? Sounds like that’s more work than to just not get caught up in it. [There’s] actually a lot of energy that we put into being something other than [who] we are. Let it go.
It’s really that simple. It’s almost scary how simple it is to observe the suffering that we’re going through and to realize it’s so simple to stop it. Trust your natural responses.