On this trip we encountered huge log jams, and there we were, standing on one of these walls with logs piled up ten or fifteen feet high and a little passage also jammed with logs. The crew’s first reaction was, “We can’t do it.” But I asked a couple of people to give the log jam a wiggle, and they gave it a few wiggles, and said, “It’s not going to move, it’s not going to work.” Then I asked them to “Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle, wiggle!” and they started wiggling with a little more enthusiasm, and the enthusiasm quickly began to spread, and before you knew it, this crowd of people descended on the log jam–wiggling, sawing, chopping. Some of the participants completely threw themselves into the challenge until they were chest-deep in water and covered with mud. But we cleared the log jam. Of course we cleared it. There wasn’t any other choice. No one was going to come along and clear it for us. It was our barrier. And we practiced it. We practiced it until we completed it.

The same sort of thing happens constantly at the Monastery. The truck is stuck and we try to get it out. “It’s not going to work, it’s not going to work.” “Push!” “It’s not going to work.” “Push!” “It’s not going to work, it’s just not going to work. It just can’t work.” “Push! Push! Push! Push!” And the truck comes out.

We are so prepared to surrender, to give up our own power. We have no idea how powerful we are. No sense of it. We’re endowed with an incredible mind, incredible potential, incredible strength, incredible determination. And we’re ready to give it up. There’s no other animal on the face of the earth that seems so willing to give up. Other animals will scuffle until they take care of the barrier or they’re crushed in the attempt.

It’s that kind of determination that we need to settle the most difficult things we carry around with us. It’s no small thing, the things that we deal with–our demons, our barriers, our hesitancies, our fears, and our anger. Nobody is going to do it for us; nobody is capable of doing it for us. We must, of necessity, accomplish the barriers ourselves. When you really push “I can’t let go” to the edge and you finally do let go, the next time becomes that much easier. Each barrier you encounter is that much easier to deal with.


Photo by Sarah Faulwetter


How many fears did we encounter on the wilderness trip? Each person brings their own fears– fear of the unknown, fear of bear, fear of bees, the river, of drowning. But again, it’s that confidence in one’s self, one’s ability to accomplish what needs to be accomplished, that propels us. I’ve always said that if I were drowning, the person I want to come try to rescue me is the one who is either going to rescue me or drown with me. That is the kind of determination I would like. It’s that kind of determination that we need to bring to our practice. It’s not easy.

Beaver dams, log jams, currents, and bees and bear; those are the problems in the wilderness. They are no different than work, relationships, raising a child, dealing with the everyday activities and barriers that we encounter in our lives, wherever we are. It’s the same process. Same kind of mind, same kind of determination.

Furong said to his teacher Yiqing, “‘The intentions and phrases of the buddhas and ancestors are like everyday meals.’ Besides this, are there any other words for guiding people?” The footnote I’ve added to this says, “Although he can talk the talk, he cannot yet walk the walk.” He knows how to talk about it, he knows how to say it. It’s easy to quote the sutras, and to quote koans, and to talk about Zen, but clearly, he hasn’t realized it. How is that clear? Just simply by his question, “Besides this, are there any other words for guiding people?” If he really understood that statement, he would realize that it’s the totality of what the teaching has to offer. That is, that the intentions and phrases, that all of the teachings of the buddhas and ancestors are like everyday meals. What does that mean, everyday meals? In the commentary it says, “Although Furong knew how to say, ‘The intentions and phrases of the buddhas and ancestors are like everyday meals,’ it is clear that he has not yet experienced the miracle of this truth.” It is indeed a miracle. But we spend our lives looking for the truth every place other than where we are and what we do moment to moment.