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Buddhadharma : Summer 2013
50 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY SUMMER 2 0 1 3 to practice. Usually people hit this after a number of years of practice, when they realize that all the expectations they brought with them, like wanting to become calm or enlight- ened, haven’t been fulfilled. Discouragement creeps in, and we lose connection with our genuine wish to wake up. The dry spot is probably the deepest form of doubt because we’re doubting not only ourselves, we’re doubting practice, we’re doubting everything—it’s as if none of it makes sense anymore. But the most interesting part is, just as we discussed earlier with obstacles, it’s the doubt itself that is the solution. When we are able to see doubt as the path rather than as something to get away from, when we’re able to enter the physical experience of doubt and stay present with it (which is something we rarely do), it’s possible for a much deeper renewal to take place. There’s a quote I love from Thomas Merton that relates to the dry spot and I’ve used it many, many times. He says, “True love and prayer are learned in the moment when prayer has become impossible and the heart has turned to stone.” This is something I experienced myself after about twelve years of practice, when I went through a period of several months where nothing made sense anymore. By just staying in an age where people have lost track of that fundamental goodness at the core of who they are. Because of this, when people take up practice, they often use it as some kind of self-improvement campaign, as a way to further reject them- selves. If meditation becomes a way to express harshness and negativity toward oneself, a sense of hopelessness can creep in. It’s striking to me that after forty-three years of practice, I still recognize a subtle rejection that creeps in when I notice my thinking and return to the breath. That kind of rejection can erode my belief in my capacity for goodness. In our Western culture, we have been so shaped by a belief in original sin or in a “fundamental lack,” as David Loy would say. People can practice for a long time and feel they’re not benefitting from it because that fundamental obstacle has never been addressed. EZRA BAYDA: I think self-doubt is a natural part of the path; you can’t enter a practice life without doubting yourself on occasion. But there’s another kind of doubt that I want to mention. In Zen it’s called “the dry spot,” which is not just the normal doubt of having a bad day or thinking we’re the worst meditator and so forth, but the place where we lose all connection with the aspiration that originally brought us