Sample from the Spring 2006 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine
There is Nothing Wrong With You
An Interview with Cheri Huber
Cheri Huber is a student and teacher in the Soto Zen tradition. She has devoted 30 years to helping people free themselves from suffering so they can enjoy the lives that are their birthright. Her gentleness, clarity, and humor are clearly apparent in this interview about the challenging work of spiritual growth.
Integral Yoga Magazine: How did you get into Zen?
Cheri Huber: The Buddha said that there were two ways to be drawn to the path of awakening: through intelligence or having suffered enough. Mine was a kind of hybrid, because when I was very young I was extremely troubled by this world we live in. I looked around and felt, “Wait a minute folks. We are rocking around on this clod of dirt–no idea where we came from, where we are going, or what we are doing. I’m supposed to get an education, find the right partner, have kids, and save for retirement? Come on!” [laughs] But, that didn’t stop me from attempting to follow the program! A while later I got to the “suffered enough” part. I did the Peggy Lee thing: “Is that all there is?” If this is all there is, I don’t want to play. Nothing about it made sense to me.
I decided to see if anyone had a good answer. After exploring philosophy and most religions, I read the first page of D. T. Suzuki’s book on Zen and realized I had no idea what he was talking about. But, I knew that he knew what I wanted to know. He wasn’t having my life experience! [laughs] This was the late ’60s and there weren’t many books I could find on Zen. I did find a Soto Zen roshi at a small monastery in the mountains of California, went there, and essentially never left. I was really listening and this was what I was listening for. For so many people, a practice is an incomprehensible thing. For me, it was a matter of falling in love. Love at first sight. I fell in love and it has only increased. I feel more in love now. It’s like a relationship that really works. It’s not starry-eyed and I’m totally committed.
IYM: You include Yoga classes at your retreats?
CH: Yes, all our retreats include Yoga. We even offer exotic Zen Yoga retreats in places like Italy, Mexico, and Costa Rica. People come because they want to be in those lovely places, but they also get an introduction to meditation and Yoga practice. In Zen, our understanding is that the body and mind are one. Not that they heavily influence each other–they are one. One is visible, one is not. We know the truth of that from both disciplines. It’s seems that often in the Hatha Yoga tradition, meditation is not encouraged. Many don’t like to meditate because it’s hard. It’s hard because we don’t understand what it is. You don’t sit to have a contest with how you will clear your mind. You get in touch with what’s going on right now. One of our books is called, How You Do Anything is How You Do Everything. As you know when you’re practicing Yoga, your whole life is right there–emotional, mental, physical, spiritual. It’s the same with our Zen awareness practice–what is going on with someone in their sitting practice tells you everything about what their whole world is like.
IYM: Do you see a conflict between spiritual practice and psychotherapy? You’ve written a lot of books that get people asking if you were trained as psychologist.
CH: My writing sounds that way. But, what I say all comes just from sitting practice. The place where I see a difficulty between these traditions is that we don’t want to use psychotherapy to reinforce a false ego structure that spirituality is attempting to dismantle. What’s wonderful is that in the U.S. there is so much merging of the traditions. So many are doing psychotherapy that is informed by their own spiritual practice. It’s not that they are encouraging people to identify with the false cultural ego or saying, “Well you need to forget you and all that happened–just live chakras four through seven and let’s put one through three out of business. We’ll just go up in our heads and ’OM’ around in life.” Neither approach is effective. The bridging is in sitting still and watching what arises in the moment–paying attention to all of it–not believing any of it and not taking any of it personally…