Zazen is beyond words. It is experience. Just sit.
However, how difficult it is just to sit and instead of fighting with reality to dance with it!
Pasquale Esposito is an Italian actor and is also a Soto Zen monk. What an unusual blend! Actors usually are seen as extroverted people, who like to pretend, to show off. On the other hand, the popular image of a Buddhist monk is someone isolated from the world, introverted, a low profile person searching for the truth. In some sense they represent two ways of seeing: sight inward, sight outward. Breathing in, towards the centre of oneself, breathing out, the internal meeting the outer world. How could Pasquale put together such distinct paths?
Arriving in the rehearsal room in London, after running through a park and spending several minutes lost in front of the place where the workshop would happen; after going up the stairs, I could see a man dressed in monk’s robes with a large smile and bright eyes. I confess that it caused me a strange feeling, as if some heresy was about to be done. Is not acting a profane action? I found myself wondering why that man – with whom I had spent a couple of hours before the workshop having nice coffee and nice conversation – was dressing like that? Wasn’t the workshop supposed to be a theatrical thing? Why dress in his traditional robes in a non-traditional context? And then, my mind started its chatting, judging, labelling, sorting.
We sat and did few minutes of zazen. A time to observe the crazy monkey mind jumping from one concept to another, from one sensation to another, from one feeling to another, one expectation to another. After that we did some different explorations for the next three hours. Each one of the exercises was an opportunity to experience the interdependence between mind and body, internal and external space, me and other. To experience!
Zazen is beyond words, so it is performing. I can remember an exercise, a kind of gentle fight between me and Esposito. The rule was that the first one who fell down onto the floor would lose. For me it was a fight, but actually it was a conversation.
Trying to be active into the passivity, to reach the place of fluid resistance, not resisting and not carrying out, I could explore the boundaries between the me and the Other. At the middle of the dance of oppositions I could experience my dualist thinking, my resistance to the full experience of reality, the fear of being exposed. The “I” in its fully fragility was exposed, the cocoon made of concepts and self-created characters was threatened. In the solid touch of a body against another, I could see as clearly as seeing my face in a mirror my automatized responses, the behaviour patterns, the constructor who builds the ego.
No, it wasn’t a mystical experience, a romantic revelation of the self, or a kind of enlightenment experience. It was more like a soft touch in a bowl of cold water. Something very humble, realistic, material. It reminded me of the fight between Jacob and the angel, and the revelation of the power of being human. During the exercise there was nothing to be done, no rational decisions to be made, just feeling and allowing the movement to flow its own way. Beyond words. Judging, chatting, sorting, labelling…There was no place or time for that. I was invited to come as I am. But who am I?
At the end I had no answer for any of my questions. I felt a little bit shy, as when we do something very stupid. But, please, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying the exercise was stupid. It was the sensation of not being able to hide myself.
How could Pasquale put together such distinct paths, theatre and meditation? I could get just a glimpse of that: from external work going straight to the inner space and coming back. In the middle of the fight, allowing oneself to dance. No aggression, no past or future. Just being, resting in the now. Zazen. Theatre as vehicle to (auto)knowledge.
And the mountains were once more mountains.
Link to Pasquale website: http://artandawareness.net
MINDFULNESS AND PERFORMANCE