Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Action & Re-Action

The other night I watched a 25 year old video on Youtube of Anthony De Mello, a Catholic priest.  I was completely blown away by two things.  One how wonderfully clear and to the point he was and how much it sounded like the Dharma.

It was forwarded to me by a friend with a serious Buddhist practice (I don't know if she'd actually call herself a "Buddhist") whose son has become a practicing (baptised) Christian.  This has lead her to an exploration of Christianity.  Ah the world is an interesting place.  In my generation it was the opposite, parents raising an eyebrow (or more) about their kids embracing Buddhism.

De Mello's message is wonderfully simple.  If you think that other people, situations or circumstances make you happy, you are wrong.  It is OUR reaction to what is happening that generates the feeling....  It's simple, but not easy.  All we have to do is change how we see things and as he points out this could take 2 minutes or 25 years... to change the focus of that internal lens that we see things through.  

Newsflash: the buck stops here!  We don't have to change anyone or anything, just how we see things.  Always we are responsible for our own happiness.  That's the good news and the bad news all rolled into one.  It took me a long time to see this and if you've been reading this blog much you've probably guessed this message was not brought to me by Proctor and Gamble but by my mother.

So how do we do this?  Well the Dharma always points back to the same little formula for me.  First I must be aware of what's going on.  So if I'm running along at top speed on autopilot I'm definitely gonna miss it when my mind swerves off the highway and hits the ditch of "everything would be okay if only..... "  So number 1.  I must be aware.   Number 2 - I must be willing.  If I don't want to take responsibility or do something differently I am going to be pulled in the direction of the old story.  I am going to want and want and want some more for things to be different than they are (the secret formula for suffering)  I'm gonna wallow in the drama and story.  So if I find myself willing (and this may be conscious or not) I can grasp my will, that is make the colossal effort to do something differently.  (Remember the definition of insanity?  Doing the same thing and expecting different results)  That's #3.  Making the effort.  Number 4 is the  action, instead of the reaction.  I have to turn my mind to a new way of seeing the person, the situation or simply tell myself "I have a choice here."  It's an experiment in the ol' life lab.  No big deal.  Maybe I get it right.  Maybe not quite right.  Maybe I see how I can adjust for next time.  But I am no longer  caught in the mindless dance of action -re-action.  I am on to a new dance - the Zen tango.

The acrylic painting at the top is part of a series I call "Zen Squared".   The words "Explore The Other Edge" well now that's your koan! 



  1. Zen Tango! I love it. Beautiful observation. I was just saying to myself this morning that I can not control the world but I can control my reaction to it. Here lies my true bliss.

  2. There really is such a thing as the Zen tango! It was recently mentioned to me by a serious student of Zen in a conversation about the creative process. I said something like it's important to follow that inner sense when we're creating rather than lead with the head. And she pointed out that like the Zen tango it's a process of follow and lead, lead and follow. I liked that, sort of the yin/yang of it! I still have to google"Zen tango!"