Cutting Your Soul Some Slack by Putting Your Soul into your Being
Somehow I think I’ve used this story before, but it fits this section like a glove.
I once worked with a client who was upper middle management, and under stress. He worked ridiculous hours, was physically ill, and deeply unhappy and unsatisfied. He had applied for another position, and was convinced changing jobs and provinces was going to solve everything. He wanted some help in the mean time.
I suggested he head off to the Toronto Zen Centre, and learn to meditate.
He said, “It’s going to be hard fitting in 15 minutes of meditation a day. I guess it’s worth it, though.”
I said, “Hmm. I don’t remember saying ‘add it in.’ I was wondering what might change for you if your life became your meditation, and if everything you do was filtered through that.”
Vocation: Life as Meditation
In other articles, I’ve talked about vocation. A vocation is a ‘being-choice.’ This is uncommon for most. In the west, we are conditioned to find meaning in numbers and accumulation. ‘Getting ahead’ is the goal—more money, promotions, recognition by the masses. Relationships are judged by how they appear. Parenting is about creating successful kids—I just saw an ad in the local paper for a P.H.D. program for pre-schoolers. Don’t ask.
At the core of each of us is a pull to find depth, meaning, and purpose. The problem comes when we see this longing as something to be added on.
Churches are famous for shoveling this bilge—come to us, and we will save you. Give us an hour a week, and a tithe, and all will be well. And if you can give more, your crown will be even shinier.
We, on the other hand, propose a radical alternative. What if finding your depth was your only goal?
I know. You’re thinking, “I can’t move into a Zen Monastery! I have a life!”
I won’t ask you how your so-called life is working for you. I know. I hear it, day in and day out. I see it in the sad faces on the streets. My clients cry for just a little peace, just a moment of contentment. And in that, they are settling for way too little.
Here’s a Zen story for you:
A guy named Harry is on a quest for enlightenment, or waking up. He tries everything. He goes to school. Nada. He becomes a life coach. More nada. He worships in the local shrine-of-choice. Mucho nada.
Finally, he decides to climb a mountain in Nepal, to visit His Holiness, Rama Dama Ding Dong.
It was an arduous trip. (Aren’t they always?) Finally, near death, he collapses on the ground near a steep path. He looks up, and an old man is walking down the path with a big bundle of firewood tied to his back. Harry says, “I’m looking for Rama.”
“I am he,” replies the guru.
“Oh, thank god!” Harry says. “I’ve been searching for so long. Please, tell me, what is waking up?”
The guru takes off the bundle of wood, sighs deeply, and smiles.
In that instant, Harry woke up. Then Harry’s mind got involved. He asked, “Please, pardon another question, but what happens after waking up?”
Rama picks up the bundle, places it on his back, and continues down the hill.
This is an important story, and it captures what I’m trying to do with this series of articles. There are several aspects to the story, but the important part is this:
There is walking with the burden. There is enlightenment (waking up.)That is followed by walking with the burden.
The burden of living stays the same.
What changes is the approach.
The goal, then, is to shoulder your burden with presence, determination,
and a sense of humour.
All the time.
It seems to me that life in the 21st century has been dumbed down and cheapened. Perhaps more so than ever before, people are fixated on buying happiness at any cost, and then depressing themselves when what they bought doesn’t have any lasting effect.
Simple Presence as a Spiritual Discipline
In other articles in this series, I’ve talked about the process of coming into simple presence. The idea is disarmingly simple: I pay attention to what I am doing. As I noted in the article, the attention is simple. I wish only to notice, fully, the experience I am having.
Most of what passes for life these days is emphatically a mental walk in the past or the future. Mostly, people are waiting. Waiting for the next promotion, the next stock tip, the next man or woman to come along and sweep them off their feet. Of course, stuff shows up, and then people seem to forget. The person, place, or thing does nothing to fill the void the person feels, and they forget that it never does.
So, they go after more of what never worked in the first place.
This is the classic definition of d..u..m..b
Spirituality: an Overarching Principle
The spirituality side of this equation is definitely a shift in perspective. First of all, it’s not about ‘finding religion,’ leaving it all to Jesus or Mohammad or the Buddha, or adopting another technique, prayer, or mantra. In a sense, the spirituality I’d like to suggest is much more bare-bones-Zen. Sit. Stand. Walk. Act. Be present.
I can’t suggest what your spiritual focus ‘should’ be. I have enough trouble unpacking mine. Nonetheless, here are some hints.
I have a bad habit of angering myself as I observe other drivers. In the past, I’ve yelled, shot the bird, and otherwise acted like a 6‑year-old. In the last 2 weeks, I’ve been thinking about this behaviour. I’ve let go of excusing it as harmless and a way to get some anger out. Instead, I’m asking “Is this action getting me closer to or farther from my purpose?”
Of course, the answer is ‘no,’ so, I’m breathing and letting the anger go. Oddly, this works, each and every time (he says with a rueful grin.) Of course, I have the right to get all indignant. But when all is said and done, all I end up is angry, and the world goes on.
Acting like a spoiled brat does not get me to the depth I seek. So, I let it go.
This is what self-mastery looks like, and every example of self-mastery is equally small. We are talking about moment-to-moment living, after all.
More next issue!