Small, Consistent Steps

The Dilemma

Sure, everyone knows: “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” “The road to anywhere begins with the first step,” or even, “Begin with the end in mind.”

So, why is this Zen Living, this making changes, this doing life differently, such a struggle?

There are four things that hinder us: finger pointing, stubbornness, lethargy, and magical thinking. Today, we explore each, and propose a small, consistent step.

photo by diametrik (modified WC Allen)

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Pointing, Pointing


I suppose I talk about this one most—as the greatest of all of the hindrances to living a complete, present, and satisfactory life. It’s difficult to stop blaming others, because it all seems so real. Something goes wrong, and boom, our heads go craning about, seeking someone to blame.

I worked with a couple last week, and as usual blame was pretty much their chosen coping skill. I talked about having a breath, letting go of the need for a culprit, and making other choices. There was a lot of sighing, and little agreement to try another path.

After they left, Darbella and I headed to the Bank. On the way out, Dar said, “I’m not taking my purse.”

We got to the ATM machine and I dug into my front pocket for my little wallet thingy. Not there! In a flash, I remembered I’d called the Bank earlier that day, and my wallet was next to the phone. No problem, I thought. Dar has a Bank Card for my business account…

In a millisecond, as I was saying “Can I borrow your Bank Card,” I remembered. Dar had said, “I’m not taking my purse.”

I then said, “Shit.” I then started to say, “Why can’t you just carry your purse? If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t have to drive home to get my Bank Card, you inconsiderate person you.”

What I actually said, (after “Shit…”) was, “Why can’t you…”

I then felt my mouth stop moving. At precisely that moment, Dar startled smirking at me.

Now, I desperately wanted Dar to be at fault. However, since there was only the two of us there, and messes in my life are never her fault, this was going to turn into one of those, “Damn, it’s my fault again” things.

So I did the only thing I could. I started laughing, and said, “I guess I still need to polish my no-blame skills.” We then drove home, I got my Card, and we went back to the Bank.

Now, this example might seem trivial. In 25 years of counselling, I’ve almost never heard a blaming rant that wasn’t trivial. Because, at the end of the day, once the blaming is over, there are only two choices. Fix it, or stay stuck.

Many of my clients want me to appoint them the teacher of their partner. They want to point out the partner’s flaws, while glossing over their own. I demur. Your job is to catch yourself blaming in a few words as possible, while getting off your partner’s case.

Blame has to go, because nothing gets more in the way of walking a new path. Your job is to walk your path, while walking your path.

Sometimes, that means being strict with yourself, or creative, or disciplined. No matter how appealing the blame story, in the end, there is the walking.


I’m working through a new, very long OSHO book, called “The Book of Secrets.” It’s about Tantra, among other things, and I’ll likely mention it again. I briefly looked to see if I could quote this section, and decided to paraphrase. OSHO says he finds it amazing how often the following happens: someone asks him for help in living life differently. OSHO makes suggestions. The immediate response? “Oh. That won’t work.”

Clients spit that line out, a lot, along with, “You just don’t understand,” or “My partner won’t co-operate,” or “Why am I always the one who has to change?”

Last summer I worked (once) with a guy who was 40. He was due to get married in a few months, and his fiancé wasn’t behaving right. He was worried that she’d continue to fail to live up to his stated his expectations for her. He didn’t like conflict, so when they fought, he left and spent the evening with his girlfriend. (Such is the life of a therapist…)

I spent an hour talking about how he might want to stick around and talk with his fiancé as opposed to making demands. He assured me that I knew nothing about relationships. He’d been in multiple relationships, for the last 2.5 decades, and he knew that all he had to do was insist properly, and his fiancé would, from that point on, do it his way. When I pointed out that he had never been in a successful relationship, and that maybe he might consider doing relationships different, he said it was clear that I didn’t understand.

nick bottom

So, what’s up here? The guy came up with a way to be with women, back when he was 15, it never worked, and he was, by god, going to keep doing it that way until some woman gave in and agreed he was right. Failed relationship after failed relationship, and he knows where the problem lies.


Here’s a flash. If something doesn’t work, stop doing it! If fighting doesn’t stop fighting, try stopping fighting. Clinging on to ways of doing things, based upon, “That what I’ve always done” is a bit silly, don’t you think?


I get an e‑zine from Leo Quinn, on finances. He quoted a new book, called “You’re Broke Because You Want to Be,” by Larry Winget. Here are two quotes from the book:

1) “There are only three reasons people don’t do well in life. They are stupid, lazy, or don’t give a damn. Which fits you?”

2) “The problem never is that you don’t know what to do. The problem is that you don’t do it. In other words, you are lazy! And you don’t care. I don’t get this at all! I don’t understand how anyone can know what it takes to do better in life and not care enough about themselves or their family to do it.”

I agree.

I see people flirting with financial, spiritual, relational ruin, and blithely and blindly continuing down a dead end path. On and on, and when questioned, say, “It’s too hard to change!” “My mom and dad did it this way!” “I’m sick, I’m tired, I’m worn out.”

In other words, I know this is getting me nowhere,
but I think I’ll do it again.

At the end of the day, effort is required to first of all catch behaviour that is not working, and then to implement something new. In other words, there is nothing simpler than repeating old, non-functional behaviours.

As Winget points out, pretending we don’t know what to do is disingenuous. We always know what to do. We always know how to fix things, to get back on the path. Many, however, are too lazy to do the work, or, perversely, think that failing will finally be the way they get the message across to their partner.

Me, I’d rather figure out what to do next, and then do it. Silly me, eh?

Magical Thinking

There’s a tale told by Rumi, the Sufi writer:

There was once a man who was on his way back home from market with his camel and, as he’d had a good day, he decided to stop at a mosque along the road and offer his thanks to God.

He left his camel outside and went in with his prayer mat and spent several hours offering thanks to Allah, praying and promising that he’d be a good Muslim in the future, help the poor and be an upstanding pillar of his community.

When he emerged it was already dark and lo and behold – his camel was gone! He immediately flew into a violent temper and shook his fist at the sky, yelling:

You traitor, Allah! How could you do this to me? I put all my trust in you and then you go and stab me in the back like this!”

A passing Sufi dervish heard the man yelling and chuckled to himself.

Listen,” he said, “Trust God, but, you know, tie up your camel.”

Magical thinking is everywhere. Notice how, with the latest stock market meltdown in the US, there are calls for the government to intervene. One wonders how long it can go on. (Answer: not long…get your ducks in a row…)

Same thing personally. Many people expect to be rescued—by their faith, by a therapist or teacher or guru, by someone or something outside of themselves.

It’s another form of laziness.

The cosmos does seem to conspire to bring us exactly the experiences we need to learn vital lessons, and many of them are unpleasant. The unpleasant part is seldom unexpected. I see this with physical stuff—in Bodywork, we talk about how our bodies often are letting us know something is not working, and this is happening before our minds come on line. Most people pop a pill, go to the doctor, get physio. And never deal with the cause.

There is no pill for what ails us. There is just this:

Pick a better, fresher, newer path, and walk it!

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

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