Zen work, or spiritual work, or freedom work is alive and well and living in every one of our crises of faith. Another way to say this is that Zen work lives at a significant turning point in our spiritual lives. Each of us sits here on this planet, and to the extent that we cannot see that each moment is a turning point allowing us to realize the possibility of awakening to freedom, we are imprisoned by our belief systems and our opinions.
Crisis means “turning point.” The Chinese word for crisis is made of two characters, “danger” and “opportunity.” So, in the present moment there is an opportunity for freedom, but there is also the danger of not choosing freedom. And then beyond that, there is the danger of reacting to not being free in unskillful or harmful ways. This is when we hurt ourselves or attack others. But if we open to the dangers that always surround us, we are, at the same time, opening to the opportunities. But if we close to the dangers around us we also close to the opportunities. The opportunities and the dangers are still there. It is just that we close to them.
When I say open to danger I’m not suggesting that you become afraid of the dangers, although some of the time if we open to danger, and we haven’t seen it before, we become afraid. So, for example everybody who is reading this column right now is, in some sense, meeting danger. What if you read something that challenges a long-held faith? What if something in this column throws your previous thinking about what is true into question? If this happens, you are in danger of having your belief system collapse. Then who are you, and what is the meaning of your life?
So, it’s dangerous to expose yourself to ideas that contradict the beliefs that sustain you. Reading this column can awaken you to the danger you face each time you listen to someone who disagrees with you, or who has a point of view different from yours. That can be frightening.
But it is possible to open to this danger and not be afraid. Even if there is fear, we can open to the danger of that fear. We can allow ourselves to be in a crisis, or at the turning point, of fear. There is great opportunity in a crisis of fear because if you can see the dangers of the fear, you can also see the opportunities of the fear. You can be free in the middle of fear.
Being free in the middle of fear means clearly and calmly looking at the fear, and clearly and calmly being present with whatever danger is arising. If we can do that, you can also be clear and calm in the presence of the opportunity. If you are shaking with fear or shaking with the danger you are also trembling with the excitement of opportunity – the opportunity to get on the horse of freedom and ride into a new and deeper realization of spiritual possibility.
But if it clings to our fear by clinging to our belief systems we won’t realize that this moment, like every moment, we can climb on to that horse of freedom from our conditioned beliefs. At all moments, we sit at this turning point.