Friday, December 10, 2010

With The Ideal Comes The Actual

"With the ideal comes the actual, like a box
All with its lid. Lo! with the ideal comes
The actual, like two arrows in mid-air
That meet."

These are lines from a Zen poem called "The Sandokai" which I think translates as the harmonization of sameness and differences. I was emailing with my friend the Buddhist monastic and telling her the story of my life as a home renovator. Her helpful and insightful reply was "With the ideal comes the actual".

The ideal exists in our imagination and the actual is what comes to our doorstep. We have a vision of how things should be (usually involving easy and pleasant) and then when other things happen we protest like toddlers who have had their favourite toy taken away.

"With the ideal comes the actual." This is so true of all things we regard as difficult in life. I think by regarding things as difficult, a subtle rejection of things as they are is implied. By regarding things as difficult, we imply that things should be easier, work out more smoothly and more to our liking. For me I always seem to imagine that things work out more smoothly for others. Somewhere deep inside I have bought some kind of advert image of people. If they look well put together, I imagine there lives flow seamlessly along like some silly hollywood movie. It's only when I get some snippet of their more private life that I wake up. I learn that they suffer from insomnia or their husband died of cancer or.....

So life as a home renovator has had its moments of lightness and darkness. More Sandokai here:
"Within all light
Is darkness, but explained it cannot be
By darkness that one-sided is alone.
In darkness there is light, but here again
By light one-sided it is not explained.
Light goes with darkness as the sequence does
Of steps in walking."

The lightness was in creating the vision and sourcing all the elements of the project and in appreciating the work of some of the great trades we had working on the project, the tilers, the carpenter. There was delight in seeing things come together and match as planned. But the darkness crept in when one trade proved unreliable, two proved over priced. The washing machine and the dishwasher got damaged in the move. Unexpected mold was discovered behind a cabinet. And the number one (as David Letterman would say) disappointment was the offgassing from the new cabinets and the smells of adhesives and grout used in the process. I had completely overlooked this aspect of the reno but the aspect had not overlooked me.

Chemical sensitivies to these products reared their ugly head and my body complained about the presence of these fumes. A cold turned to laryngitis, eyes burned and watered. And as the mind sometimes does, a great long story sprung, fully formed. "What if I have to rip my new kitchen out, what if I have to move?" I have been rediscovering the panic queen side of myself! In the end I did what any sane modern person would do. I googled it. I found that mobile homes have huge air quality and offgassing issues and that heavy duty air purifiers are used to suck the chemical gases from the air. So ensued a solution, an industrial strength air purifier.

I almost have my voice back and the project is almost complete. There has been lots of Dharma here, lots to learn and now the the appreciation of silence and solitude.


  1. "With the ideal comes the actual" I love this! I have a post to go up tomorrow that talks about this topic in a different context, but the essence is quite similar. Soon all will be back to normal and you will LOVE your new kitchen.

  2. carole, i have thought about this so much, lately... one morning after a day and night of suffering from a drama overload, it hit me like a bolt of lightning. it seemed almost comical to me that i would EVER think that the actual had to be like the ideal. that would be like reading a fairy tale in childhood and thinking that life was going to be just like that story, forever and ever! good grief...


  3. I often miss the life I dreamed I wanted :) and try not to resist/reject the life I live... Great point that calling life difficult is a subtle rejection of life as it is... Will have to remember that as I moan and groan :)

    If you are the Queen of Panic you have many consorts running through the castle halls with you! :) Hope life re-harmonizes for you soon. I'm not up on these things, but is there a homeopathic remedy that could help your body to re-harmonize and strengthen your immune system?

    I loved the full poem btw... Everything is ultimately in harmony... Need to remember too.

  4. "wonder into wonder existence opens"

    ...complete with mold and cold and wood roaches OH MY...they don't call is samsara for nothin...

    all best with the physical effects of the redo.

  5. Laura - I will have to stop by for a read!

    Lynne - It takes a lot for that penny to drop doesn't it. In fact I needed it gently pointed out to me. For some reason I assumed everything would just go as I'd planned! Hopefully some of this is sinking into my blood and bones so I won't be so surprised next time!

    MeANderi - "I often miss the life I dreamed I wanted" Great line! and isn't that just it. It's more like the old Rolling Stones song "We don't always get what we want, but sometimes we just might get what we need" LOL Glad to have company running through the halls! And the peace will be all the sweeter for the chaos.

    merci33- It struck me as exceptionally funny "they don't call this samsara for nothin" thanks for the good wishes!

  6. wow... that's quite the set of developments in a week! I can't think of anything to add - other than Sandokai is one of my favourite chants. Enkyo roshi who was one of the teachers at the Rohatsu retreat last week quoted that great Zen master, Duke Ellington: It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing... dowa, dowa, dowatdowat... Reno's are kinda like that, I guess... One has to just get down and swing. :-D

  7. Lots of wisdom embedded in one post, Carol!

    I can relate to all. I, too play favorites and struggle with even-mindedness. I, too tend to buy into the illusion of other people having it together . . .

    Thank you for once more weaving your personal story of the moment into the universal fabric of humanness, made up of joys, and sorrows, and lots of suffering.

    And no, not too much 'me'. Keep up the wonderful writing.

    Always such a pleasure!

  8. Genju - I think the swing has definitely been missing more than a beat or two. I got to see how I don't dance very well with chaos.

    minddeep - Thanks, Marguerite. Yes that is it "the fabric of humanness". I like that.