Zen stories nourish the soul and spirit. Whenever I slip into a threshold, I turn to the wisdom distilled in stories to find the fortitude to take my first step into the unknown. As I return to ACA web-blogs, I’ll share a Zen story that presented itself, as stories usually do for me, at precisely the right time.
Thresholds in my life seem to always appear in the arms of surprise, rendering them both enticing and terrifying. Although I am fully aware that uncertainty is the only certainty we have, it takes a while for me to fully embrace change, although I am forever seeking it. Under the spell of an obstinate resistance to change, I stopped in front of my bookshelf in search of a container for the rage and sadness engulfing me after a fruitless attempt to reason with the unreasonable—a story I am going to spare you of, dear reader, for it is really not important for this blog, or in all fairness, for any other purpose. The pastel colors of Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, a collection of stories compiled by Paul Reps and Nyogen Senzaki, literally bowed to me and invited me into its pages. After I read a few stories, my discomfort came to a halt, my breathing eased and the room became the oasis I needed with the story, “The Moon cannot Be Stolen.” Since it is a very short one, I am taking the liberty of reproducing it here:
Ryokan, a Zen master, lived the simplest kind of life in a little hut at the foot of a mountain. One evening a thief visited the hut only to discover there was nothing in it to steal.
Ryokan returned and caught him. “You may have come a long way to visit,” he told the prowler, “and you should not return empty-handed. Please take my clothes as a gift.”
The thief was bewildered. He took the clothes and slunk away.
Ryokan sat naked, watching the moon. “Poor fellow,” he mused, “I wish I could give him this beautiful moon.”
I recently made the decision to go heart-open, but with my stubborn head first, into the adventure of fulltime solo practice, still with the aftertaste of several experiences with fulltime jobs that offer the illusion of certainty, security and social perks that I, poor human soul, held as essential, but that little by little inscribed in me a sense of emptiness, or to put it in the context of the story, that stole away the clothing of my clinical orientation, leaving me naked in the waters of mainstream psychology. The most recent of these experiences left me with the need to stop for a long gaze into and exploration of my soul.
I found a richness already present in my life, both inner and outer, something that cannot be stolen by any harshness, that broke me wide open and allowed me to surrender to the idea that conventional work does not hold the space for what I have to offer. Instead of seeing this as a defeat, I need to embrace it, be content, and surrender to that bright moon that brought gentle, cleansing tears to my eyes. The story was the concave shape that cocooned the convex of my need to feel validated exactly for what I bring into this world.
There is a vitality that comes with getting up and doing exactly what I love—what I am doing right now as I write this blog before heading to my practice. I am intentionally writing “practice” instead of office because to me the work I do is a spiritual practice which I am no longer willing to dilute. Embracing clinical work as spiritual practice makes me more productive and opens up room so those who receive my offerings cam benefit more fully. Walking into my pale lavender office with the purple sofa and purple chair, with the books I love, the diverse lilac hues spread intentionally throughout the rooms as a tribute to those who enter, and the wide windows that open to a view of the lush green maples. Also as a way to bow with utmost reverence to whoever walks in, entering the uncertainty of solo practice and brightness of my very own moon is an enticing prospect. I don’t hesitate when going to work, neither apprehension nor fear of having to speak from the shoulders up, confident in my ability to speak from and with my heart so my clients can receive and reciprocate my gestures, in turn creating a pathway to their very own shiny moon that no one can steal.
Positioning ourselves in ways that when we say “I am going to work,” we are saying, “I am going to pursue my passion, I am going to give myself to what I love the most,” virtually always translates into therapeutic sessions that are productive and fulfilling for both recipients and providers. When I first start working with clients, I invite them to survey the landscapes of their lives, taking special care with how time allotted for work is spent and how the ecology of that work harmonizes with the rest of their lives. Having designed my own practice puts me in the position of speaking from a firsthand perspective that inevitably changes the conversation and the therapy outcomes.
The solo private practice brings uncertainty to its maximum expression, and also puts me in the position of walking the talk, and embracing it as the only certainty I have. Waking up to the work I love makes my life pleasantly different. I intentionally refuse to follow someone else’s tracks or something that feels safe, and choose to embrace the swirling waters of uncertainty with the shiny moon of my gifts spread out on the waters, so those who come to my practice can enter the therapeutic landscape without the heaviness of my sorrowful heart.
My invitation to you, fellow counselors and readers of this blog, is to examine the nature of the work you do, your level of satisfaction and what you would do when the thief comes, as he would in the world of work, to steal your clothes. Would you have cleared a path so your moon can shine, so you can embrace your job and call it your dream? Are you able to turn inward and point to the shiny moon no one can steal from you? Most of all, are you kind enough to wish that the thief who calls can also see your brilliant, beautiful moon?
Marianela Medrano-Marra is a counselor and Dominican writer living and practicing in Naugatuck, CT. She writes poetry, essays, and creative non-fiction; with publications including essays and four books of poetry.