Friday, February 6, 2009

Instant Mashed Wisdom, Add Water and Stir

What is the point of having a Zen (or any spiritual) practice?  Why do we devote hours of our life to sitting on a cushion?  It isn't about blissing out as a neighbour once suggested to me.  In my mind the whole point of practice is to live in a way that creates less suffering for myself and others.  My aim is to loosen the grips of greed, hate and delusion in a very real way, a way that makes a difference in my life and the lives of those I touch. ....In short I want to learn to be in the world in a different way, a way that leans in the direction of wisdom, love and compassion.  As my daughter would say I want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.  In a blood and bones, right here on the spot, kind of way, I want to alter some of my less enlightened behaviour and make more wholesome choices.  I want to be able to live with what is, not how I want things to be.

Sound pretty fancy schmancy, airy fairy?  For me it's not.  I live right down here in the mud where the beautiful lotus flower starts and it's good nourishing mud!  But how do I make those changes to my live?  One of the practices I learned when I started studying with my Zen teacher was a process she calls "daily investigation".  At the end of the day, you spend some time (maybe as little as 10-15 minutes, maybe more) looking back at your day.  Were there things that "niggled", things that were troubling or leave a slightly bad taste in your mouth?   As you sit with them, you turn the investigative light on those incidents.  My teacher would say "be like Sherlock Holmes".  You look in detail at an event.  What happened?  How were you feeling before hand?  Were you tired, rushed, had a headache?  And as you examine instances you can find your own trigger points.  When someone looks a certain way, I loose it, when I'm tired it's not a good time to talk about a problem.  In short we get to know ourselves.  We can find, sometimes to our surprise, where a problem really started and it informs our behaviour next time.  How can we ever make a change if we don't know where the suffering begins?

I can remember a specific instance where a friend came to stay with her teenage daughter.  The whole visit went a bit sideways.  They were unhappy, my family was unhappy, people acted kind of grumpy and in the end no one had a good time.  It was a little banquet of suffering for us all.  And when  I looked back it turned out I had a "niggle" about the visit but felt I couldn't possibly say no.  I had a feeling that we couldn't quite handle the company of this troubled teen, but still I felt I "should" say yes to the visit.  Mom was a good friend.  We would try and accommodate. And the domino effect that ensued was not pleasant but a wonderful teaching.  I learned as I said in an earlier writing that "I am not the Buddha" and it doesn't do any good to pretend that I am more compassionate and understanding than I really am.  Big lesson.  Guided a lot of future behaviour.  Sometimes we have to look far back in the chain of events to find the origin of the suffering.  Sometime it takes a little help from someone wiser than ourselves (my teacher helped me trace this one to it's little source in the river of suffering).

Another time in looking at the little misery tango that my mother and I were locked into I found (again through the help of my teacher) that I couldn't find the source because I wasn't paying enough attention.  She'd ask me, what did your mother say, what was she doing, how did she look?  And at that point I realized I was so entrenched in my position of "oh she's just always complaining", that the details did not even register.  She might even say something nice or say thank-you and I hardly noticed!  I was fixated on my "point of view".  It turned out when I really looked, I felt guilty, responsible in some way, when my mother got out of my car looking all bent over and sad and walking very slowly.  I felt she wanted me to fix her, make her life better and happier and that made me angry.   It was based on some assumptions of my own, a lack of communication and a certain body language of my mother.  Only when I was aware of what pushed my proverbial button could I breathe and just be, instead of getting so caught up.

And unlike Alice who can take a pill that instantly makes herself small, there are no pills that instantly make us wise, compassionate and loving.  There is no instant mashed wisdom, add hot water and stir.  It is a process, one that takes time and effort.  It adds depth and richness to life, to look at it deeply and work with all its messy ingredients.  But in the end we are like  great chefs, always tasting the dish and adjusting the recipe.  Perhaps a pinch more generosity here, a little more sweetness there, and that bitter stuff, maybe I could leave it out next time.  So I encourage you to join this little cooking club, tasting and adjusting what you serve to your esteemed guests (that includes you!)  And one day down the road you may look out at the table and be amazed at the wholesome feast you have created   Or perhaps it will simply feel good to know that you've just stopped burning the metaphorical toast!  


  1. Speaking of mothers and what we feel they want from us as daughters is a complex subject full of emotion... and one based on everything you say as well as how we interrupt the responsibility we have taken on over the years as their child.
    Your blog continues to challenge and inspire me.

  2. Very well put!

    There is so little that we can change in this world but the impact of even a slight act of kindness can have enormous effect.

    Looking back on each day to find the little stickers wanting us to cling to them is a great tool and one I hope others find.