Universal Rules: Take no credit. Cast no blame. Seek to empower others. Enjoy life.
It might seem, at first glance, that the above four points are somewhat unrelated. Sort of a "dog's breakfast" kind of thing – here we are shoving a bunch of stuff into a single topic. But that's not how I see it. At one level, the first three lead to the last one. At another level, reminding ourselves to do the latter, while seemingly "odd," is best done when we have stepped out of the drama that forgetting the first three creates. That being said, let's work backwards.
I'm inventing a new Zen story here.
The student asks the Master, "How do I find enlightenment?" The Master replies, "Enjoy Life." The student goes away, and begins to consciously enjoy things. Each night he returned to the mater and dutifully reported on the things he had enjoyed. And the Master would immediately find some thing he had disliked and complained about. So the student would turn his attention to that, only to be reminded of another dislike or complaint. The student then thought, "Ah! I get it! I need to stop complaining."
The Master, that evening, said, "How are you enjoying your search for enlightenment?" The student replied, "I think I am beginning to get it, Master. I'm sure I will enjoy the feeling of enlightenment when I get there."
At this, the Master slapped the student briskly across the face.
The Master said, "And perhaps some day soon you will feel that slap, too."
The student, breathing deeply, rubbed his cheek and was enlightened.
There is a deep paradox to the injunction "enjoy life." For many, it would seem, the "enjoyment" comes in complaining about how rotten life is treating them. Endless is the sequence of complaints, many of which revolve around our other three points. Or, there is the litany, "I'll be happy when such and such happens." And stored within the whole things is the concept that the only way to enjoy life is to be happy. (And, of course, I'm not. Yet. Someday. Maybe.)
The first error of the student was in expecting that, in order to enjoy life, one has to enjoy "things." We can pretend that life is made up only of an endless list of things – relationships and objects to be played with. The problem with this approach is expressed in the Plate Spinner on Ed Sullivan.
Even though the "novelty" of the act is in how close the plates come to falling, the spinner, racing back and forth, manages to keep the plates aloft. The "joke," such as it is, is that we all know that eventually there will be too many plates spinning and one will crash. Thus it is with enjoying "things."
As the Master demonstrated, by focusing his attention on enjoying something, the student was focused on the thing, which he then proceeded to enjoy. Yet, the instruction was to enjoy life. So, the student, would focus, would make himself enjoy the one thing, and all of the other things happening became distractions or annoyances – the things that got in the way of enjoying the original thing. It would even seem that the depth of his enjoyment of the thing was in direct proportion to his dislike of everything else. Much like the plate spinner, he'd be enjoying something and then notice his annoyance and race to the thing he was annoying himself over, and begin to enjoy that, only to notice he was ignoring or annoying himself over the first thing.
His first realization, then, was that
you can't enjoy things if you wish to enjoy life.
So, he stopped complaining and "enjoying," and simply focused on how enjoyable life would be if he could ever reach enlightenment.
This is the other error. Thinking that enjoyment of life comes when some task or series of tasks is complete. The flaw is that goals have a way of always being just out of reach, and time has a way of passing us by.
We end up staying stuck and waiting for "things (there's that word again!) to change."
The slap, like all of life, happened in the "now." In a sense, the moment of enlightenment can come when we realize that
the only way to enjoy life is to enjoy "now."
If I choose to see the world, see my life, as a moment to moment unfolding, then I can simplify the process of "enlightenment" by focusing in, not on the thing in front of me, but on me interacting with that moment. As we in the West sometimes put it, "If you are not enjoying life, consider the alternative. We're a long time dead."
The truth of the situation is, there is only this moment, and then the next one. I have my feelings in the present. I don't feel in the future or the past, no matter what it seems like. If I'm making myself miserable over a past event, I am doing that in this moment, so it is a current experience of a remembered past. This is not splitting hairs.
If I choose to step into this moment, (Dar wrote about this here (and following) – in her review of The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle.) then all there is, is this moment, and I can choose how I relate to it. Which brings us to our other points.
Take no credit. In most Zen tales, enlightenment comes in a flash of, wait for it, in-sight. Boom, I'm aware of me and of "life." In body and breath work, as we push thought away and simply breathe and work the body, emotions and feelings and sounds and movement arise. Not in a predictable way. The experience simply "is." No one can take credit for this process.
The problem with wanting credit is living your life screaming, "See! Me, me, me! Aren't I clever! See, I told you so!" And while recognition for a job well done, at an egoic level, makes some kind of sense, why should we seek recognition for what were are supposed to be doing? I thought "a job well done" was like, the minimum, or something. One would think, according to what we're saying this week, that the reward of a job well done would be the personal satisfaction, not the external praise. I enjoy life by doing everything I do as elegantly as I can.
Cast no blame. In a similar way, if I think I am a poor, helpless victim of fate or others, I am screwed, blued and tattooed. I move to a place of helpless inaction.
In truth, I am where I am, dancing the dance I am dancing, by choice. I'm here because I brought myself to this dance. If I don't like the dance, it's not the fault of the other dancers and it's not the fault of the orchestra. It's not even my fault, as I know that the simple solution is to find another orchestra, find another dance.
Letting go of blaming others (or ourselves) for our stuckness is a difficult choice, one again that is made moment my moment, in order to let go and enjoy life. When we truly get this, we avoid the need for a slap across the face.
Empower others. This is the "magic" of the Zen koan. The Master did not "get it" for the student. He provided an experience in which the student could get it for himself. In other words, the Master concocted an empowering experience and left the student to the resolution. Had the slap not worked, the Master would have simply found another experience to present. And another.
I can't get it for another person, and I can't make someone "get it." I can't demand that they get it. And for sure, I can't demand that another person "get" what I get, the way I get it. Because they aren't me and I'm not them.
So, I have to let go of responsibility for the outcome, and let the other person alone. I provide an experience and a "field" for the other to bounce off of, but never do I think I'm going to "fix" the other person. Remember, take no credit. Nor is it my responsibility if they choose not to get it. Remember, cast no blame. All I can do is stand beside and stand with another, and do what I can to make the situation alive and inviting. I, in a sense, empower others by empowering myself.
This week, look at the way you are living life. Think about the stories you tell yourself to avoid enjoying life. We don't have to like the situations we face (no one likes death, destruction, poverty, disease) but we can certainly learn to enjoy being alive, enjoy each of our feelings, and enjoy the gift we have been given. Our days are numbered. Make them memorable.