Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Ambivalent Zen by Lawrence Shainberg -- unambivalently recommended

I'm still enjoying reading around in a book I read many years ago:  Lawrence Shainberg's AMBIVALENT ZEN (1995).  It belongs on the "Enlightenment Journeys" book review page of this blog, but I'd have to read the whole thing again to do it justice.  Suffice it to say that it is hilarious while also informative with respect to American Zen (especially Rinzai Zen).  It's hard to write a book about meditation practice, especially a practice which you admittedly are not succeeding in, but Shainberg does a marvelous job.  Here is just one of many passages I could quote verbatim:

"Returning to the cushion, I am ocnvinced that everything I seek in Zen is suddenly within my grasp.  All I have to do is push a little harder, cast aside my caution and timidity.  When my half-lotus, as often, begins to feel off-balance, I lean back and pull my right leg onto my left so that both feet, soles up, are high on opposite thighs.  Until now, it has never occurred to me that this posture -- the Zen equivalent of the four-minute mile -- would ever be available to me, but such is my intoxication at this moment that my body seems infinitely supple.  What are physical limitations, what indeed is the body itself, in the face of unobstructed concentration?  My chest pounds.  I am short of breath, so awash in sensuality that for an instant I feel -- literally! -- on the very of an orgasm.  It's as if I have unlocked a vault within myself, released an energy that dwarfs anything I've known before.  Ignoring the pain in my knees and ankles -- how can I call it pain when I am feeling so much pleasure? -- I sit like this until the timer sounds, at least another forty-five minutes.  And then, when I try to move, I feel as if the lower half of my body has been amputated.  My legs and feet are completely numb, paralyzed.  It is unimaginable that I shall ever move them again.  I consider screaming for help until I remember that the nearest neighbor is five miles away.  I see David [his brother] -- shaking his head, reflecting sadly that I'd still be alive if only I had listened to him -- arriving in June to find my bones in a neat little mound on my cushion.  Five or minutes will pass before I am able to take a foot in my hand and move it just a hair in the direction of my knee, nearly fifteen before I can stand erect and take a few steps, more than ten years before I attempt this posture again."

If you liked this passage, you will love this book.


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