“In walking, just walk. In sitting, just sit.
Above all, don’t wobble.” ~ Yunmen
Some years ago, my Zen teacher made a big deal about Yunmen’s teaching of “not wobbling” or, as I have frequently termed it, “not flinching.” Not allowing myself to become like those weeble toys that are designed to wobble the moment they are touched was perhaps one of the most significant teachings offered to me as I started along the path. It felt goofy to think of it this way, but not moving away from anything that showed up, learning not or flinch in the face of whatever came up, helped me deepen my practice. What was made clear, as my wobbling started to diminish, was that the only way to evolve past my habitual and often destructive behaviors was to face my pain, in all of its forms, without ever moving out of its way. Whatever the costs, I learned, the work was to be still and intimate with my situations even when it really hurt to do so. This applied to the meditation cushion as well as my life as a whole. Whether it was about a relationship I was in, a relationship I wanted to be in, the relationship that I was trying to cultivate with myself, or anything else, it became clear that the only way to get at the roots of my discomfort was to face everything with total relaxation. This didn’t mean that I couldn’t engage my life or that I couldn’t have any fun but rather it helped me to recognize that any actity must be consciously sourced from this fearless posture of vulnerability if I was ever to be free from suffering. No flinching, no wobbling. Only working to live fully and consciously. Right here. Right now. All the time. At least that was the teaching.
It took effortful practice then, and continues to be a practice now. While pain, discomfort and negativity naturally show up in life, learning to fearlessly meet these types of situations as they arise, without ever running from them, allows for our relationship to our discomfort to shift. So it’s not that our non-wobbling ends our pain. Rather, our intimacy with our discomfort changes our stories surrounding it. The great thing about this is that no matter what our level of experience might be, we’ll always have a chance to apply this simple teaching of engaging life without flinching.
So what does flinching look like? Basically, it looks like anything that insulates us or distracts us from any discomfort that’s happening in any given moment. Most commonly this takes the form of pleasure-seeking where the ego carefully crafts ways of hiding from, or flinching in the face of, what’s happening. Even if the behavior is healthy, say like going to the gym or meditating, we can see how such activity can become an escape from our pain. While doing healthy things may be an appropriate response, it’s critical for us to recognize our intention prior to any action. If, for example, we are seeking an escape from anything we are merely flinching in the face of life’s offering. Even the healthiest of practices won’t necessarily get to the roots of our suffering unless they are directly being put into the service of increasing our awareness of exactly what’s going on. The same rationale applies to unhealthy behaviors. Smoking a cigarette, having an extra drink or two, engaging in sexually promiscuous behaviors and not taking care of our bodies can just as easily be seen as forms of flinching since each of these actions anesthetizes us, however briefly, from our pain. The problem is that each of these behaviors ends up causing more pain. We then look to escape again. And the destructive cycle of suffering continues. The teaching is pretty simple. Whatever we might do in order to avoid discomfort will only result in diminishing our awareness and thus will continually support everything that generates our suffering in the first place.
Facing life and all it offers, as its being offered, without flinching, on the other hand, not only breaks this cycle but it also has the effect of helping us uncover the lasting peace we all want. Maybe this means we adjust the ways we celebrate life, maybe it doesn’t. Whatever the case, when we don’t wobble, we can’t help but see clearly what things truly matter to us as well as what choices we need to make in order to walk into our light. Doing so allows for us to embody our inherent holiness and live out our most sacred expressions of truth.
It’s a simple teaching, but it’s not such an easy a practice. And yet it’s so necessary. Being fearless and “flinchless” in the face of it all begins when we all start practicing with small stuff. Find the little things you avoid and work there. Gradually give the fullness of your presence to stuff that’s more difficult. Before long you’ll begin to see that you can handle whatever’s thrown at you, even the really difficult situations, with a steadiness that can radically impact both your own life as well as the lives of those you touch. In addition, none of us should be afraid to ask for help in this most heroic process. Always remember that there are those who are effectively walking this talk. Seek them out. Get to know them and absorb what you can. No matter how challenging this approach to living might be the difficulty itself has a way of deepening us and making the fruits of our labors that much sweeter.