Coming and Going

We come and we go. This is very present for me at the moment as I have been away from Austin and Appamada for nine of the last twelve calendar weeks, first teaching in the UK for three weeks in early May and then in Hawaii for another six weeks during June and July. Returning home has been both wonderful and challenging.

Everything comes and goes. This reality of everything coming and going allows us to begin realizing the truth of impermanence. Through sitting practice we discover it as an embodied experience rather than a spiritual idea. Mindfully watching the interplay of all that comes and goes in each moment of our practice we begin to appreciate the vast interplay of this coming and going. Everything is contingent on everything else – slowly revealing itself as the truth of life as it is, not just another Buddhist concept.

Without clearly seeing this dance of impermanence and interdependence, we unconsciously turn our back on the truth that everything comes and goes. The ignorance of, or unwillingness to face this vast, ongoing flux of coming and going, leads us to suffer. These are the Three Marks of Existence as taught by the Buddha — anicca, anatta, and dukkha — impermanence, dependent co-arising, and dissatisfaction. Everything changes, everything is contingent, and discomfort is inevitable. Nothing is permanent, nothing is a “thing,” and nothing is ultimately satisfying. Everything comes and goes.

In Zen we call this “The Great Matter” — birth and death — our embodied coming and going. We practice the Great Matter with a small, embodied matter – the breath – as it comes and goes. We can rest in stillness and silence with a bit of mindful attention to this coming and going, and in the process we cultivate Presence, the deep gift of practice. We can learn to be present to the breath, to each moment of distraction from the breath, to another moment of quiet attention, and then to the many moments of jumbled thoughts and feelings that come unbidden and leave reluctantly. All coming and going. Can we cultivate a capacity for presence to this coming and going?

Suzuki Roshi said, “Just to be alive is enough.” This suggests to me that it is enough to accept the Great Matter and its everyday expression as our life. Our practice is not to get out of life and move into a permanent, blissful, safe place we think of as nirvana. Our practice is to live our actual lives. This is what matters. This is the Great matter. We can be thankful that we are alive because we get to experience dukkha. Realizing dukkha means we are alive, so we can be grateful for dukkha. We can be thankful for our problems. They are aliveness showing itself. Because we are alive we get to have problems. Because we are alive we get to practice Presence. Presence is aliveness, and because we are alive we can be present to coming and going. Noticing that this coming and going is universal, a shared experience we can be grateful for the opportunity to take care of each other. This is life. This is practice. This is presence. This is care. Coming and going. Practice brings us alive — into presence with coming and going — waking us from enchantment with permanence, perfection, and protection.

These are some of the things that arose in Inquiry. I began the sitting with a guided teaching – “Coming Home.” Coming home to our true Nature is our practice and is only possible as we relinquish our longing for permanence, the ideal of perfection, and the hope for protection.

In my Inquiry talk I briefly mentioned a very energetic Hawaiian boy, maybe 6 years old, who I met at a Kualapu’u Ranch event. This boy was all over the place, climbing, running, playing with the other kids, and watching the paniolo’s (Hawaiian cowboys) and the amazing group of Navy Seals helping out (another story!). This boy somehow captured my attention, coming and going with joy and enthusiasm. At one point he called me over to show me a spent shotgun shell he had found – something awesome to him.


“Uncle!” he cried out to get my attention. I stopped and he stopped. I had never been called “Uncle” by a native Hawaiian child. As a southern boy I was sternly trained to always call my elders “Sir.” This was the Hawaiian equivalent and obviously natural for him. For me, it felt like an honor and it stopped me in my tracks. I felt “seen” in a way that I had not expected and it surprised me. I asked if I could take his picture. He thought for one moment and gave me the Hawaiian sign of friendship and connection. Our coming and going played together for awhile as we spontaneously recognized each other in that moment. Then he was off to play again on his own and so was I. Coming and going. Finding our True Home.


Inquiry recording: