A Backflip into the unknown

-By Jennifer Ayres, October 2019

Living in the UK right now, it’s somewhat difficult to avoid feeling deafened by that whopping great siren of uncertainty known as… well, let’s just call it ‘The B Word’.

On top of this, the speed at which we can suddenly be plunged into the unknown was starkly highlighted with last week’s demise of an 178 year-old, market-leading, UK tour operator. The sudden liquidation left 21,000 people without jobs, 150,000 stranded abroad and an estimated 1 million people with cancelled holidays.

Whether you’re endlessly waiting for other people to make a decision or change is thrust upon you, it’s easy to feel a sense of powerlessness and that your fate is in someone else’ hands. A stressful and exhausting state of limbo.

Feeling fatigued myself this week by a crescendo of uncertainty, I looked into my Zen ‘toolkit’ (which is rather small as I’m still new to this journey) and couldn’t find the answer I needed –  other than knowing that my recently patchy zazen practice was definitely a factor. So unsure what else to do to help breathe more easily through the rest of the week, I emailed Ginny. Her wonderful words to me are below:

“Living in limbo is not easy. Yet it puts us much closer to reality than does living with the illusion of certainty. The ego draws its identity from the many mooring lines it has to relative certainties in our life: our name, job, title, and resume, our address, families, communities and citizenship, our possessions, hobbies, favorite foods and clothes and on and on. Even our expectations from government, or that facts should matter are ways of creating firm ground in the ego’s world. When these things go haywire and these mooring lines are broken, the ego gets uncomfortable in its own dance between life and death. And it lets us know about it!

The tendency is to grasp at straws – any mooring line will do! But the larger possibility that we learn on the cushion is that “not knowing” is the place of greatest potential to reconfigure into whatever life needs us to be right now.  And that by breathing deeply, slowly into hara and opening our senses to every vibration, we’ll be primed to pick up on the signals that are ours to act on. People sometimes ask me why Zen training is so difficult, and I tell them because life is difficult. When you enter sesshin (intensive Zen training), you’re also living in limbo: you don’t know when a “sit” is going to end, what troubling emotions are going to arise, what part of you will fall apart as you take yourself to the brink. The limbo of life that you describe is its own kind of sesshin. What sesshin teaches us is you can take all this difficulty and find boundless freedom, not by running away or fighting with it, but breathing it in, down and through yourself, totally accepting it is what it is, and exploding to your capacity to embrace all of it. You say that fate feels like it’s in someone else’s hands. Yet the larger truth is you are those hands and the person they move: your “true human body is the entire universe.” Use discomfort as fuel for your training and limbo becomes the link to heaven.”

I read Ginny’s email at 2am this morning when my sleep-resistant brain was running amok and suddenly I could think clearly again. I’m very grateful to Ginny for the reminder that certainty is merely a delusion. Life is messy, complicated and unpredictable – and that’s precisely what also makes it so amazing and full of adventure.

How many things we’re most grateful for are a part of a chain reaction that started with a diversion from the planned path? 

I’m going to up the intensity of my own zazen practice and embrace whatever comes along, starting with an extended sit this weekend and Zen Leader 1 in the French Alps next week. It’s going to be a fantastic, energising few days and I can’t wait to see what unfolds as the group sits together and opens up. There are still a couple of tickets remaining if you want to join us on this adventure! (See link below)

Wishing you all a wonderful, uncertainty-embracing week,

Jen x