Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Falling In a Hole

There is a poem by Portia Nelson called "There's A Hole In My Sidewalk".  I bet you've heard it.  It's been around for a while.  It could well be the description of Zen training or any  other spiritual or humanistic practice that causes us to look at what we do with honesty, and adjust our behaviour accordingly.  It is such a succinct picture of how we move from blame and unconsciousness to awareness and then to making conscious choices about what we do.  And it's funny too!
Here it is:
"I walk down the street.  There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.  I fall in.  I am helpless.  It isn't my fault.  It takes forever to find a way out.

I walk down the street.  There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.  I pretend that I don't see it.  I fall in again.  I can't believe I am in this same place.   It still takes a long time to get out.

I walk down the same street.  There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.  I see it is there.  I still fall in... it's a habit... It is my fault.  I get out immediately.

I walk down the same street.  There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.  I walk around it.

I walk down another street."

Ah ... the path of training ....  We start from the place of blame and defensiveness to deal with our difficulties.  That's just how it is before we start to look deeply at what we do.  We use this position to protect our poor, little vulnerable selves. Mostly we look outward into the environment (for our satisfaction or the source of our woes).   It took me a long time to be honest enough to see my part in painful situations so there I was falling into holes.  Finally the light went on and I  learned that the only person I get to change is me.  The only stuff I get to work with is mine!   That's when the real work started!  I have found that I excel at multiple hole tumbles.  And finally the dim little light reluctantly flickers on. 

 I can remember watching the process.   First I'd see (whatever it was I'd done, perhaps an angry response)  after I'd done it  and then maybe I'd catch myself in the middle and then finally I'd catch myself before I got started.  Even then I might still be drawn to do it.  And finally I would catch myself before hand and make the choice to do it differently.  There I was on a different street and feeling pretty good about it.    Man the view was nicer, the air was better and when  turned the corner there was no dust and scrapes on my behind.  

And always there is something to train with.  Some days the holes in the sidewalk are big and treacherous and you really have to pay attention and grasp your will and sometimes they are just a little nicks in the pavement.  But as we travel along the path of practice I think we get better at spotting the holes and perhaps quicker to choose an alternate route.  But hey, if you see me in a hole and I am hollering, maybe you could lend me a hand out?

I chose this little black Buddha  (dark like the hole!)  for this piece because it took a lot of time and effort.  I kept working and reworking it, looking at it and feeling frustrated with it, taking sand paper to it and in a final act of frustration painting it black.  But for some reason I refused to give up on it (I think I 'm too cheap to throw a canvas out!) and finally it was transformed into something I liked.  Maybe it's that process of transformation that it speaks to that is really the essence of this little poem.