Allison Atwill & Tess Beasley are guest hosts in John Tarrant’s Free & Easy Wandering Series. They each tell a story of being at a threshold—knocking on doors not knowing who would answer, and how the gifts of the universe appeared. PZI Zen Online, as recorded May 30, 2021. Vows with Jordan McConnell. Music for meditation from Michael Wilding archived separately.
From the opening verse of The Blue Cliff Record: Knock on any door, someone will answer.
Allison’s opening words: The time we’re in right now: Suddenly it feels like the doors have been thrown open, and there’s a threshold with all this fresh air flowing in, and all this life is appearing, and invitations to come out. Part of us can’t wait to race out into the world, and another part is very reluctant and maybe makes only a few forays. And suddenly we discover we’re not who we were when the temple doors closed over a year ago, and the work is not what it was a year ago. And there’s this marvelous feeling of the shock of not knowing.
The Blue Cliff Record: An ancient and marvelous collection from over a thousand years ago in China, originally collected by [Chan Ancestor] Xuedou. Shortly thereafter, another Chinese teacher, Yuanwu, took up the one hundred koans in this collection, and gave lectures on them over a long period of time. This was brought into a larger book called The Blue Cliff Record—which is where he gave the lectures, at the Blue Cliff.
Here is the opening verse of The Blue Cliff Record. It opens right away with the inexhaustible, and is also a threshold; having a feeling of a herald, or a call—a call into the mystery:
Boundless wind and moon—the eye within eyes;
Inexhaustible heaven and earth—the light beyond light.
The willow dark, the flower bright—ten thousand houses;
Knock on any door—someone will answer.
Tess’s opening words: The koan has an almost theatrical or Shakespearean quality;10,000 houses with 10,000 doors beckoning us. I want to talk about doors and doorways—the almost numinous quality that doors and doorways can hold for us, and tell a story about a series of doors at a particular time in my life, and what the opening was.
About doors: When did doors begin? A divide between inside and outside, a barrier arriving between things that might be frightening outside and things tucked inside. Egyptians leaving tomb doors open so spirits could pass through. Figures indicating protection at doorways. Zen stories—students knocking on their teacher’s doors, bursting with insight or hoping for confirmation. H.G. Wells and hidden moments, hidden doors—you are stumbling around and suddenly find yourself at a hidden doorway to a world larger than expected.
A story about door shopping—a pilgrimage to a “hole in the wall” with stacks and stacks of old wooden doors, each door having come from a whole world with all the encounters that took place. All of them standing together in one place, each door lying there with untold stories, waiting for a new threshold to inhabit.
About Tess’s story: Arriving at the Strozzi Institute in Petaluma; a place for learning to “build the body of a leader” in the world. First time away from home, having grown up in a sheltered part of the universe. Getting into a car accident and not knowing what to do. Looking for help at the door of a gay nightclub, “No women inside! (But you can use our phone book.)” The Alice-in-Wonderland quality of encountering one person after another who were not of her world, each opening up a new vista.
Back in Petaluma late at night, discovering that the door to her room did not have a lock. “Is there something in your past the would make you feel you need a lock?” Started secretly sleeping in the program office, in a chair with a blanket—and a door with a lock.
Pretending to be ok, carrying so much fear; “I don’t know what the world is.” An idea of the world was breaking up, something new was rushing in. Not really meeting things, not yet knowing how to reach on her own. Yet the world was conspiring to open things out.
There was a sense of something irreversible, there was no going back. “I would never be the same as I was before.”
The times we’re in: Also a sense of something irreversible. Some activities familiar, some seem surreal. Re-entry—who’s re-entering? Where are we re-entering from and re-entering to? And somehow that keeps changing.
The initiatory quality of what’s happening. A threshold between doorways.
Whatever you notice now? That, too, is a door.
Allison on thresholds: The immensity and awe of any threshold we’re passing through. The awe and immensity of not knowing. “Knock on any door, someone will answer,” it doesn’t say who, when the doors open. We don’t know who we’ll encounter, and we don’t know how we’ll be changed by the encounter. The not-knowing is contained within “someone.”
Endless encounters, openings, and meetings—we have whole histories of encounters pouring though us, and we bring them to the moment we are in; this encounter.
Who will we meet? The small self wanting to control who we meet, what we meet, and how—what our experience will be, who we will be when we pass through something. Even if we control something exactly, how we feel about it is un-controllable. This is a marvelous thing—the thing you didn’t plan for and couldn’t control is that which arises when you meet it.
The heart of the practice: What we’re really after is not a feeling or certain mind that we already know, but rather the experience of space, an open and free mind—so that whoever opens the door, whatever we encounter, we are not afraid in the same way.
About Allison’s story: Fresh and full of eagerness to be in college in Santa Cruz. Wanting a boyfriend, found one at the ice cream shop—”That one will do!” That was the beginning. His grandparents had died recently, he was often away on the weekends in their beautiful San Francisco house near the park.
One night in the pouring rain, a sudden urge to see him and surprise him in San Francisco. An old car, a few coins in her pocket, not much gas—and a feeling of danger, of risk. Like the propulsion in a student’s life towards awakening, a force that wants to transform. Driving in the pouring rain, “I don’t know what will happen. Oh, I might die tonight.”
In practice, risk of the death of part of the self: “I’ll no longer be able to hold onto a certain way of protecting myself, or grabbing hold of certain things that I used to have.”
Arriving in San Francisco, knocking on the door. He was surprised—and with a guest, his former girlfriend in the living room. A huge silence and vast space opened in that moment. It’s too late to control it, there’s a great interest in what was on offer. A question about the girlfriend arose—in the moment, arising out of the silence and space, from curiosity and awe, one more step through the threshold. A sudden clarity: “I did not love this person.” This clarity was so embracing and trustworthy—”I can rely on what’s actually happening, more than what I want or hope for, what I want or need people to be. Everything I ever wanted was in that moment, already.”
Willing to be transformed: The world is pouring forth this spring of fresh new “moment.” It requires us to open to it and walk through it, not knowing who we will be after we enter.
Poem: Raymond Carver, Locking Yourself Out (and then trying to get back in)
Tess: Every time we ask a question we’re knocking on a door. The knocking, the beckoning, already gives so much shape to what might happen when the door opens.
Allison: Who is asking? The who that was asking was more interested in what was real, more than anything else.
John Tarrant: There’s a kind of field that happens where you can’t say the wrong answer—that’s the true meeting. In a deep field that keeps unfolding, the universe produces itself—that’s what we’re according with.
Jon Joseph: 10,000 homes with doors open, fires in the hearth—so welcoming. A nice feeling; things have been so closed this past year—to friends, families, jobs.
Tess’s closing words: We’ve been in this sort of pivotal moment in life. Something in it is initiatory, and it seems not quite accidental. We’ve changed in ways that we don’t even yet know.
Jordan on guitar: Four VowsRead More▼