Holding Space

In Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, Suzuki Roshi says

“Even though you try to put people under control, it is impossible. You cannot do it. The best way to control people is to encourage them to be mischievous. Then they will be in control in a wider sense. To give your sheep or cow a large spacious meadow is the way to control him. So it is with people: first let them do what they want, and watch them. This is the best policy. To ignore them is not good. That is the worst policy. The second worst is trying to control them. The best one is to watch them, just to watch them, without trying to control them.”

As humans, we feel we are “good” at self-expression, or at least that we have a right to do so.  Especially if we are American, I would add.  Self-expression just seems to be in the American cultural dialect.  “Express yourself!”  “Be your own man!” “Have an opinion!” and so on and so forth.

If we look at the way we dress, the way we walk, the way we speak, the way we drive, the way we floss our teeth, all of this amounts to a kind of personal style: it’s a way of acting upon the world that we view as very intimate and personal.

At the same time, it’s incredibly public, and we love that shit.  Facebook is the primary way many people express themselves these days, and we love it when someone “likes” our expressions.

None of this is new.  What we might find interesting is that we are not so interested in people expressing themselves.

To come back to Suzuki Roshi’s quote, if we are honest with ourselves about how we interact with others (whether they be humans or animals) our interrelations are often laced with a very subtle (or at times quite overt) effort to control the other person.  We do this by judging them.

If our friend brings us negative feelings, a negative mood, and a lot of problems, we are often unable to “just watch” or “hold space” for that person.  We instantly set ourselves up as the receiver of the information, and we automatically assume that some kind of action needs to take place.  We need to do something.

We don’t need to do anything.  In fact, it’s probably the worse thing we can do.  The reason is not that helping people is wrong.  It’s that when we try to help people with the goal of changing them, then we are not open to who they are.  We are not comfortable with who they are.  Whether we want to know it or not, we have rejected that person as unsuitable to our current vision of reality.

It’s deluded and it’s hurtful, and it’s entirely about us.

If, however, we can bring the objective light of awareness to the situation, to the person, and leave our own big fat ego out of the situation, things will happen.  The person will sense our impartial nature, and they themselves will begin to release their own pain.  This happens naturally.  It’s not a super power that needs to be cultivated.  We just have to accept that we don’t always need to do something.  Sometimes we just need to be.  If we can do that, there will be enough space for that person, their problems, and everything else as it appears.

As Ramana Maharshi has said:

“The shadow on the water is found to be shaking. Can anyone stop the shaking of the shadow? If it would cease to shake you would not notice the water but only the light.  Similarly take no notice of the ego and its activities, but see only the light behind. The ego is the thought ‘I’. The true ‘I’ is the Self.”

When we rest as the light of awareness, we heal ourselves and everyone around us.  It happens naturally.  No effort is needed, and when we rest as that light, no effort exists.

Suzuki Roshi with his wife, Mitsu.

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