Early in this practice period, I’m struck by the strangeness of vow. How it can be clear in my heart that I want to do it, while at the same time resistance rises and is heavy in my chest. I vow to write and yet feel that there is nothing to say. Vow is intention but more. A promise. It is clear that I want to follow through. To live in vow.
I remember the men’s group I was part of so many years ago. None of us could handle commitment very well. Finally one day, one man said he’d realized that a vow isn’t something you speak once and you’re done. He said he’d come to see you have to repeat that vow daily, in every moment really. Somehow that made it easier. Like alcoholics who say they don’t have to stop drinking forever, just for one moment, one day. And that is how they can do it for 50 years. It’s easier in one way to conceive of in that way. But though it is easier, it’s a bait and switch, because it actually makes it harder. But in that group all those years ago, it made it easier for all of us. He was married shortly after his realization, and the other 4 of were also married within the year. All of us.
One utters vow, and everything changes. it can feel like a cage, like a cell. At the same time vow saves me, keeps me on the path, holds me accountable.
And sometimes vow is silent, unknown, something silent I don’t even realize. Jung said that people with addictions were looking for god or spirit in the bottle or the drug, and had to see what they were truly looking for. Or as David Foster Wallace put it so well, you’re going to worship something or someone, so you might as well be aware who you’re choosing to worship. And good old Bob Dylan comes to mind here too, with his “You’re going to have to serve somebody.” So it occurs to me that we all serve make some vow, observe it. I would like to be clear to myself what it is. At times in my life it has been to get by with as little work, suffering, conflict or pain as possible. Or to get as much money or sex or praise as possible. Or to run from fear. I have lived in those vows. So I might as well choose what vow I will live in.
And this vow, this one I’m working on during this practice period, to get a daily writing practice going again. Instead I hem and haw, avoid writing, or sit and my mind goes blank. I come out of the tub overflowing with ideas and thoughts to put down, and simply don’t. So perhaps I need to make this vow more visible, more public, like the public proclamation that was one meaning of a koan. And sometimes the craziest ideas, the craziest vows are the best ones. So I vow here and now to write daily, it may be one sentence or one haiku, or a long rant like this. But I will write and post it, put it out in the world. That may be just enough to overcome my inertia. To put myself in a position of having to follow through. Years ago when i was first starting out with zazen practice, I signed up to be a doan, one who opens the zendo, keeps time and leads the chanting. Because it was a way to trick myself, to be sure I’d be there at least on that day to sit regardless. I trick myself or rationalize things all the time to NOT have to do them. Why not do it now as a way to do them. And it takes fear, pride, avoidance, laziness–everything else out of the equation. Just make the vow and do it. Emotion is removed. Or at least neutralized. Vow is purified activity.