zen and the art of bodily maintenance

For roughly a decade now I’ve been a student of Zen Buddhism. Or at least as much of a student as one can be whilst living in Northwest Ohio. I’ve read many of the great Zen works and some of them several times. I find lists of koans and keep one in my mind turning it over and over like a stone until it becomes something of a truth to me. While I’m not the most knowledgable person out there, I’ve read and studied enough to be informed.

Yet I maintain that the most Zen thing I’ve ever heard came out of my brother’s mouth. This was a few years ago when, for reasons I don’t now recall, he frequently had to avail himself of public transportation. And this during the winter. I remember saying how much that must really suck and he said, “It did…until I figured it out.” “Figured what out?” I asked.

“The trick,” he said, “is to let the cold pass through you.”

He went on to elaborate that by fighting the cold you’re causing yourself to feel the cold, that if you just get out of its way it’ll move along with you barely noticing it.

I’ve turned back to this idea more than any single idea I’ve ever come across in my life. And I turn to it now, in this fibromyalgic times, as I struggle with sourceless pain and fatigue.

Some days waking up is a struggle like nothing I’ve ever faced. Other days I wake just fine but getting out of bed hurts so much I’d rather go back to sleep. Some days I win the battle; other days I don’t. But I’m beginning to realize that the days I win are the days I don’t fight.

If I accept that I’m going to be in pain, that I’m going to be tired – or both, because that does happen – if I accept it and just let it pass through me, I do better. It’s the only thing I’ve found that consistently works. Walking helps…sometimes. Stretching helps…sometimes. Napping helps…sometimes.

But letting go, letting the pain and exhaustion pass through me, works every time. If I just do what I do irrespective of this offending condition, I don’t have to play defense. I’m just me. In pain. And tired. But functioning.

Obviously the trick is to remember my brother’s wisdom. The inclination, I think, is to fight pain. To figure out where and why we hurt is the first step in affecting a resolve. I’ve been following that tactic for so long it’s practically instinct. I have to step back and remind myself simply to let it pass through me.

It’s not easy. But neither is being in more-or-less constant pain. Of never feeling truly awake.

Buddha was awakened sitting under his tree by getting his ego out of the way, by letting nature and experience pass through him untouched. I might not be capable of Nirvana – and I’m probably too damn clumsy for it anyway – but I’m probably capable of living with pain better than I am right now.

The trick, you see, is to let the cold pass through you.


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