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The Finger That Points to the Moon…

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There is no remedy — No Hay Remedio
More on Letting Go

Synopsis: The Finger That Points to the Moon… — our internal representations are neither real, nor necessarily correct.

Of Wayne’s many books, the one closest to today’s topic is: Half Asleep in the Buddha Hall

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Some years ago, I wrote a booklet called The Watcher… it’s about dealing with depression and other annoying voices in our heads. I decided to expand it. The booklet is FREE! (Although you can also leave a donation… )

You can use the same plan included in The Watcher to work on any “voice in your head.”. Just click here — you’ll end up on The Phoenix Centre Press site


The Finger That Points to the Moon...

Conclusion to a Zen story:

Truth has nothing to do with words. Truth can be likened to the bright moon in the sky. Words, in this case, can be likened to a finger. The finger can point to the moon’s location. However, the finger is not the moon. To look at the moon, it is necessary to gaze beyond the finger, right?”

Ah, those Zen masters. It’s painfully clear that much of what they discuss, usually in response to a question – is the unreality of what we call reality. Or better put, the unreality of our descriptions, beliefs, and stories.

A more modern way of putting this is that reality is subjective.

If you think about it, pretty much all the conflict in the world, now and forever, is a fight over whose picture of “whatever” is the correct one. This is so no matter how big or small the disagreement. It’s the basis for psychotherapy — the client’s version of the story isn’t working, so they head off to the wise therapist for a version correction. 

As if the therapist’s version is any more correct.

Nonetheless, wisdom has a lot to do with letting go of stories and perceptions, and engaging directly with “the moon.” This is engagement unvarnished by long-winded defenses or explanations.

Yet, many are the people who will spend hours and hours arguing about the validity of their perceptions, despite the fact that the results they are getting from using those perceptions clearly and plainly suck. 

I describe this as “whacking yourself in the head with your own mallet.” 

A story occurred to me: some years ago, a client presented the following: his daughter wasn’t living her life the way he wanted her to, and after the last fight, they hadn’t spoken for months. He listed off what she was doing that he didn’t approve of, and said that, no matter how much he insisted, she kept doing them. 

I responded, “All of the things you want your daughter to do are perfectly right. However, they’re appropriate for a 14-year-old. Your daughter is 31.” 

He got this odd look on his face for a moment, then said, “Well, that probably isn’t going to work.”

Here’s the finger-pointing part: when he pictured his daughter in his mind, he saw a young woman perpetually in trouble, and perhaps more significant, perpetually 14. He was therefore locked into “dad of a delinquent 14-year-old mode.” His subsequent behaviour perfectly fit that role. 

Thus, his “finger-pointing to the moon” was perfectly accurate within its own context (in his head.) It just wasn’t pointing to anything other than itself.

That’s really the point of the expression under consideration today. In a sense, it’s like raising your hand to (apparently) cup the moon and believing that you actually hold the moon in your hand. In other words, we act as if the representation we make in our minds, about pretty much anything, is the actual reality of the topic at “hand,” as opposed to an imagined representation.

Have you ever sat in one of those business meetings where everyone is “trying to reach consensus?” So, be honest. Aren’t you sitting there, and inside, thinking, “What the hell is the matter with these people? Why don’t the get this? My finger, pointing, is just so obviously the same as the moon! And they dare to challenge me with theirs?”

We waste inordinate amounts of time trying to get people to agree with our internal representations. Every time I hear someone say, “This is how it is,” I have a pretty good idea how it isn’t. If it were that way, there would be no need to explain it or try to convince anyone.

That’s really been the point of the problems with the 2106 election in the States. (And of course, this is my finger, pointing…) Little Donald’s angry tweets, for example, are provably “wrong” — have nothing to do with reality — and yet are agreed to by millions. Not as facts, but as “I just feel it and believe it — and now I’m going to stuff it down your throat.” And this is soon to be the basis for running a country.

It is simple arrogance that causes us to think that our opinion should be important to anyone other than ourselves.


One of the ways past this is to change our language.
Rather than declare my “finger-pointings” — my opinions — as being true, I simply say, “Here is the story I am telling myself.” This acknowledges that everything I believe is an invention. 

Reality, on the other hand (the moon) is “that with which I engage.” Reality is a 31-year-old daughter sitting across from her dad, and dad dropping the rant, and simply conversing. Not convincing, conversing.

As we explore our world-views with each other, the discussion ought not be about “right and wrong.” Our interpersonal disagreements are simply conflicting opinions. Rather, our discussion might turn to how we are going to “work” with each other: “How is this working for me, and how is yours working for you?”

  • If I am treating my 31-year-old like a 14-year-old and she doesn’t like it and isn’t talking to me, I can keep doing it in hopes that she sees the light and starts acting like a good 14-year-old, or I can ask myself how I like the results of my actions.
  • If my goal is to dominate my daughter and keep her under my thumb, I want to keep doing what I’m doing.
  • If I want to set up an adult-to-adult relationship with her, I’m going to have to change my behaviour at the least, and I would be wise to change my internal representation of her from 14 to 31.

In the end, it’s that “simple.”

What are your internal representations? Can you own them as your personal property — not something to be “sold” but “simply yours?” 

Wisdom and “truth” is about getting over trying to manipulate others into to doing it your way, while resisting being manipulated into doing it their way. From there, you can check how well your representations are working for you, and look for ways to change the ineffective ones.

Representations are just that. The finger that points to the moon is not the moon. Simple, eh?


Wayne Allen 

About the Author: Wayne C. Allen is the web’s Simple Zen Guy.
Wayne was a Private Practice Counsellor in Ontario until June of 2013.
Wayne is the author of five books, the latest being The. Best. Relationship. Ever.
See: The Phoenix Centre Press 

There is no remedy — No Hay Remedio
More on Letting Go
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