A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about this quality of going “all in.” Since then, I’ve been working a lot with what this means in practice, and a couple of specific things have surfaced.
First, it seems like diving in, to whatever pool your working with, involves one big decision (“JUMP IN!”), immediately followed a thousand smaller decisions (“stay in.”) Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche used to talk about what he called the BIG NO, cutting directly through habitual patterns (which, of course, is also a BIG YES to whatever comes next.) This is what I was reaching for with the notion of going “all in,” — cutting through “holding back” or, as Acharya Pema Chodron puts it — renouncing “holding back.” This is the cold wind, the sharp blade, the step into space.
Yet while it’s invigorating and inspiring to make a leap, the guts of the matter come later, when you first come up for air and it starts to sink in that now you’re in for it. From here on, it’s a thousand small decisions that collect like dust under the bed into what we generally call a life. If the initial inspiration is a vajrayana dragon, the rest of it is the Zen of “chopping wood, carrying water.”
Here’s where we typically wear out, where the rush of the resolution has passed and we start to get bored with having to face our habitual patterns over and over again – our habit actually wears us out before we can cut a new groove, form a new pattern. It’s not that it’s so tough really; it’s just not very exciting. This is where perspiration supersedes inspiration, where we need to put the shiny stone of our resolution in our pocket and just start walking.
The second piece around this is closely related- it’s the quality of staying with something until it comes to be “ordinary.” I met a guy on the mountain recently who asked me how many days I’d ski this winter. I told him 40-50 (a lot by most people’s experience, not so much relative to a lot of folks who live here in the mountains.) I wouldn’t want to ski that much, he said, it wouldn’t be special anymore.
And he’s right – that’s what happens. I got to this point with road biking last summer and wanted to get there this winter with skiing- I wanted to see what happens when I’m no longer “GOING SKIING,” and get to where I just “go skiing.”
What I’m reaching for here is the quality of interiority, of familiarity that emerges when we stick with something long enough for the novelty, the specialness, to subside. This is a big part of the practice aspect of meditation – getting past the entertainment value of the novel, the new, and just sitting. And I don’t think we can ever really get to this point if some part of us is still looking backward.
So here these pieces come together. We begin with inspiration, with resolution, which is essential. We commit to go all in, and then we repeatedly need to decide to stick it out, to wear through the veneer of novelty and to settle into the ordinary, to keep doing whatever it is we’ve decide to do until we feel like we might die from boredom.
And then we die.
Or rather, a part of our “old self” dies. Our old way of seeing starts to die, and we begin to develop new eyes. We begin to notice a level of interior detail that we were too distracted or too speedy to see before. The depth of the subject begins to reveal itself, and the world actually changes, taking on a previously invisible three-dimensional quality.
But this can’t happen without going “all in.” Until we go “all in,” we’re forever on the outside, never completely inside whatever it is we aspire to do or be. We have to fall completely into whatever “thing” it is we’re giving ourselves to, to hang in with the terminal boredom, choosing again and again to stay.
Until we get bored, literally, out of our minds.
Then the exquisite detail of this sacred world can slowly and magnificently begin to unfold before our entirely new eyes.