A student asked Zen master Qinglin, what happens if one takes up the path of Zen, what then?
“Be careful, there is a poisonous snake on the path. I advise the student not to run into it.”
“What about when the student runs into it?” Qinglin replied “He must mourn his life.”
I like this answer because it's unexpected and because it conjures up a unsettling image. An image can excite us, scare us, or bring up uneasiness and melancholy. People looking at a Francis Bacon painting often experience an uncomfortable and intense response. A meaning can't be discerned and so the painting, and the artist, becomes dark,unsettling. Yet,his paintings draw us in and we know they are good, great even.
Most of us take up a meditation practice with the hope of quieting our minds and getting rid of stress in our life, so it can be unsettling when the opposite seems to occur and long forgotten ghosts come back to life and we feel anything but peaceful and quiet. Qinglin seems to be saying that yes, there are indeed, a poisonous snakes on this path, he might also be hinting that this is not a bad thing. Our Zen ancestors called these recurrent and unsettled feelings great doubt and they considered them extremely valuable.
Something interesting happens when we are willing sit with our uneasiness. It creates the possibility for something else to arise, for meanings to change, morph and finally disappear. Who we think we are might die, what we thought was right and proper might shift.