Dharma Glimpse by Emily
This line of thought will have no resolution since it’s new to me, but I’ve been thinking a lot lately about a “big life” vs a “small life.” I was talking with one of the monastics about how my first year or two in Zen was the happiest period of my life. I didn’t think about anything else. Every hour of my day was full, I woke up at 5:30, went to temple to sit, eat, and clean, went to one job, had an hour for lunch, went to my other job, had an hour for dinner, went to temple again, came home and showered and went to bed at 9 to do it again the next day. I made meal offerings with a full prayer before every meal, at the altar. During spring and fall, I wrote the text we were studying on high pieces of paper and taped them to the walls of my apartment. I was very, very happy. It’s important to know that I was very mentally unwell when I came to Zen, so I had essentially forgotten about the world as I was healing through practice. When I told this to the monastic last week, she said I had had a very small life, and it can be easier to be happy in a small life. Also that I can’t go back.
I think she’s right, I was very happy in my small life. Over the years, I became more aware of things outside that I felt like I was missing out on. Friends outside of Zen, cute clothes that didn’t cover my shoulders and knees, TV and people to talk about it with, vices. At first, when I left I was overjoyed at feeling connection to all the people outside of Zen, life got very big. But it’s much lonelier, even though I feel every person got more accessible, it makes me a very little fish in a big pond, instead of a medium fish in a medium pond back in my little Zen world. Of course, NYC is known for this, it’s very lonely despite there being so many people. Who knows what percentage of people are just the same, living in some little 8″x8″ room with few to no connections in a city of 8.5 million?
Anyway, my main point is, is there something wrong morally or spiritually with a very small life? I’m not sure I’m doing anyone any more good now in the big wide world than I was in my little world. But it feels like something is wrong with making a little world to be happy in? Why does it feel that way? I think because, for me, it meant disconnection from everyone “outside.” But are my new feelings of kinship with everyone actually benefitting me or them? How can I make it benefit? Am I and others better off if I just make a new little world?
What do you do for people in a city where most people don’t want to be interacted with in public, myself included? Here, if you are crying on the train, it’s actually a kindness for everyone to ignore it. I know that seems odd to anyone not here, but you have to understand that there is no private life here, almost no one lives without roommates and everyone can hear you all the time. So it’s a kindness to give each other this pretend privacy. So, that said, what does connection even look like here? I guess it means going places where people are actually looking for it, but isn’t that making a little world then?
I hope this counts as a dharma glimpse, if nothing else it’s a glimpse for you about this city. And to me, this is the Dharma, giving some thought to things, questioning things.
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