The Egg in Hand

Posted by on September 25, 2015

Egg in Fingers

Whereas most mammals maintain a protected internal environment for the growing fetus, birds use an external protective covering consisting of calcium called a “shell.” This protective shell provides an isolated environment to allow the developing chick to thrive but once the chick is ready to survive in the outside world, this secure vault needs to be opened. The chick needs to break open the shell without help, in its own time frame and only the chick’s internal clock knows when it is time to emerge.



Early in my training as a Zen student I vividly recall an explanation my teacher gave to me regarding a Zen student and a Zen teacher. I was told that Zen students are like hatchlings in a nest and the Zen teacher is the mother bird. She went on to tell me the work of a Zen student like a hatchling is to push from the inside towards freedom and the work of the teacher was to peck from the outside until the hatchling is free. She took this metaphor to heart as did I. I felt pecked, but I never felt free.

I, however, have since come to see the misunderstanding of such a relationship. I suppose the first truth is that no one can free another person by any means. It’s a relief to know this firsthand. The second truth is that I am free from the worry of finding the right teacher who is up to the task of pecking me to freedom. I must admit I worried for some time that I needed to find another teacher who would do the honor of pecking me to death.
I was lucky. The several teachers I bumped into never were willing to take up the strike against the defensive ego-egg nor were they able to give any guidance to what I needed to do.
Over time it became clear to me that neither they nor I knew what a teacher was supposed to do and what I was supposed to do as a student.
It wasn’t for lack of effort that I found myself in this sad, disheveled state. I groveled, pleaded, and beseeched those who carried the title “teacher” to help me. I found disinterest, self-interest, and indifference.
Some had programs I could follow; sign-up sheets to enlist in their particular brand of spiritual work and some had mistaken me for someone that I fortunately knew I was not. Others had membership fees, dues and lots of regulations. None of it suited me.
In all honesty, it was my misunderstanding stemming from the chicken and the egg explanation given early on as well as a delusion that clouded and covered over what I really needed. The delusion took quite a few hard knocks before I realized I carried a delusion that teachers should help. I thought those with a title of such magnitude as a Zen teacher should be willing to help anyone who sought their assistance. That was a delusion!
I am quite thankful for reality and the suffering associated with coming to grips with it. It was my best tutor.
Before long I began to realize that I wanted something in addition to my delusion of getting help. And furthermore it became apparent that those I sought help from (Zen and other teachers) shared a similar problem; we were each invested in self-interest.
It took many years to finally stop the search for someone to peck me out of my babyhood; this someone who would help me become a somebody in a line of many other some-bodies.
This is all good luck, although not pain free. On the contrary, it was very painful to give up the delusion that others are there to help peck me into the Eternal Way. It was painful to relinquish the wish to join the ranks of the legitimate lineage of professorial Zen. But mostly it’s been a relief.
Soon after this realization I entered into the wilderness of don’t know which was a greater stroke of good fortune. For a time, I felt adrift and seemingly lost until I realized this don’t know place was Zen. And it was here that I realized there is no one better equipped to reveal the Dharma than the steady, faithful and solitary practice of everyday. It was for the most part simple but not easy.
It’s ordinary.
This ordinary and common struggle with the ego conditions of the day-to-day is the work of Zen. It requires I be both mother and baby in every situation. It means I enter another place known by many who practice contemplation as a cell. But this is a cell not like the outer shell of an egg but of an inner reality of confidence. It is the destination of ceasing suffering.
No one can set anyone free. The inner resolve of the baby chick (you & me) and the outer conditions (everyday conditions) naturally break us free. This is the eternal work which has no name.
Fidelity, watchfulness, and steady commitment to this solitary path protect the hatchling from counting on conditioned delusions to bring about a birth of awareness.
The mother and father birds (those who give tips and pointers) provide warmth, quiet, and a predator-free environment while the hatchling struggles to crack through the protective membranes.
The baby eggshell is for the most part calcium carbonate, a chemical compound found in rock and has the quality of cement when protein mixes with it. It’s as if the hatching is buried alive inside the egg. It takes strength and fortitude for the baby to want to live outside this protected shell.
When the hatchling reaches a certain size it needs to break through the inner layers in order to find oxygen or shrivel up and die inside the egg. Many birds grow what is called an egg tooth, a sharp hook on their beak which is used to break out of the once protective shell. It is called pipping.
Along with strength and neck muscle the hatchling starts to pip a small air hole in order to breathe and absorb nutrients while it smashes through the cement-like barriers.
The hatchling at this point needs no help. In fact, if anyone including the parents tries to help the pip, there is a great risk that the baby hatchling will bleed to death.
The hatchling goes it alone. The baby hatchling has simply outgrown the need for such strong and dependent protection.
The work of life shifts to getting nourishment from the parents. In other words, the work is up to the newly born bird. This mutual assistance is a reminder of the nature of benevolence.
It was for me.
I needed a steady, solitary faithfulness to the practice of breaking through the baby shell. Without this self-mothering I found myself going round and round in circles reviewing old, dead fish brought up in storms in the mind. I needed and continue to develop the strength and determination to break through opinions and views of the self. I had to grow out of and outgrow these confining, protective shields.
A spiritual life, especially a contemplative one is a matter of growing up, spiritually growing up.
The work is up to me. The egg in hand is me receiving the benevolent favor from the Divine in the form of good luck and lucky conditions.
When I consider it, I rest in serene work within, live day-by-day in the hand of the unborn and undying and when I am very lucky I remember to be grateful.

Copyright ©2015 A Single Thread

Quote Credit: Retrieved: 9/24/15


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