Stepping Off
(Pat Yingst)

I have always loved our slow kinhin walking. But it took on a new meaning for me several years ago when my Rinzai teacher gave me the koan “How do you take the next step off a 100-foot pole?” I found our Kinhin practice to be very helpful in my working on this koan. Each step taken in concert with the outbreath and with a temporary dissolving of thought became, in my mind, a step off the pole. Sometime I could even imagine the void beneath my lifted foot.

In one way of looking at it, each step is a step into the future—the great unknown. I protect myself from facing this great scary unknown by presuming to know it; I dream that my routine, my plans, my expectations are all true and immutable and that I will get in my car after zazen and proceed to my job or whatever activity I have designed for myself. And nearly all the time my prediction comes true. And so it continues—one predictable day to the next. How safe I am!

I protect myself from fear of the unknown—from jumping off that pole. But If I could drop all this KNOWING what is going to happen next— then I really would be stepping off the pole with every step and with every breath. I might still go to my job after zazen, but there would be freshness and gratitude in the experiencing of it. How exhilarating!

About Pat Yingst

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