How It Is — Acting is one thing–letting go of expectations regarding the action is the key!
And…and… I had such big plans… if only I’d gotten around to them!
So, happy 2011, and also Happy 60th birthday (Jan. 3) to me! Yes, I know. I don’t look a day over 50…
I’ve been reading Lama Surya Das’ book, “Buddha Is as Buddha Does: The Ten Original Practices for Enlightened Living
‚” and I’m quite enjoying it. Rather than directly quoting it, I’ll just retell a story from the book, and provide three endings, as opposed to the two presented in the book.
A woman moved to Jerusalem, and her apartment overlooked the Wailing Wall. Each morning, she saw 3 men arrive together, and begin praying. She left for work, and came back at lunch, and there they were. When she returned just before supper, the men were still there.
After a few months, she went down and asked them about what they were doing. They said, “We arrive together in the morning, and all morning we pray for world peace. We then go for lunch, return in the afternoon, and pray that all people will have access to food, shelter and medicine. We’ve been doing this for years.”
The woman asked, “How has it been for you?”
The first replied, “Like talking to a wall!”
The second said, “Imagine how bad things would be if we hadn’t prayed!”
The Zen guy said, “When praying, I pray with all my attention. Then, I go home.”
It seems impossible that we might act without thought of result—without demanding the outcome be as we think it ought to be. It’s similar to asking “why” questions: “Why did my parents raise me the way they did?” “Why do (wo)men treat me the way they do?” “Why won’t my partner cooperate with me by doing it my way?”
Such questions have no answers, other than, “Because that is what happened. Now, move on!”
My mother-in-law has a counted cross stitch I her bathroom or a bear glaring at himself in the mirror. I below, “It reads, “I’ll smile if you will.” Then below, “You go first.” It’s similar to a client assuring me that she is totally committed to using the communication model… just as soon as her partner agrees, and uses it perfectly first.
In a sense, wisdom is knowing that your job is always and ever to “go first.” To do what you must, to act with clarity and swiftness, and then to do it again. To act, and to let it go. Because in the end, what will be, will be. (Que sera, sera…)
I once worked with a couple; she was a student therapist, and had been to Haven. According to her, everything wrong with the relationship was his fault. They came to a Bodywork training weekend, and we were doing breathing. He was breathing, she was coaching, but was actually sobbing. I wandered over, and asked what the issue was.
“He’s doing it all wrong and he won’t listen to me, just like always!”
I looked at his technique, and said, “He’s doing great, in his own way.”
She sighed, and the next week, quit therapy.
It’s odd, to think about acting without considering our imaginary outcomes.
Just hanging around. You???
And yet, it is often the outcomes we imagine that freeze us in place—that keep us from acting. Or, we are so lost in the imaginary pleasure we create in our chargy mental stories, that again, we are frozen into inactivity. Or, we refuse to act because of the non-conforming behaviour of others.
Yet, all we can do is to act, given who we are and what we know, right now.
In other words, once I have determined a course of action, I must act without recourse to any knowledge of what lies down the road. I act because action is called for.
And sometimes, the action called for is “no action.” A thing almost inconceivable.
Inconceivable because we forget that non action is different from inaction. Non action is a state of active stasis, while inaction is “just sitting there, doing nothing.”
Sort of like meditation. Meditation is non-action. It superficially seems like “sitting there, doing nothing,” when in fact it is one of the most alive and active states one can choose to be in.
Briefly, back to the three guys.
First of all, they obviously have chosen to act. There they are, day after day.
The first guy clearly thinks he’s talking to a wall. And of course, he is. It’s clear, however, that he is offering up prayers to someone with the expectation that he will be heeded. “Here, “god,” is my plan for my life and for the life of the world. Now, you just toddle off and make it happen.” As if “god” is a celestial concierge—give “him” a tip and he fulfills your every desire, and all with a smile.
Guy two, the perpetual optimist, looks around him and assumes what guy 1 does not—that “god” has indeed acted exactly as he has suggested, and so he therefore imagines not a better future, but how bad things would have gotten, had he not intervened.
The third, Zen guy, for reasons unexplained (and let me tell you, you do not owe anyone an explanation… no one is interested!), has chosen to pray. He has even selected some things to pray for. He sees his “job” as to hold these prayers in his heart and mind, as purely and completely as he can. Period.
In this, his action is clear, present, and pure. Nothing more to do, to contemplate. He is thus free to act. Again and again.
Everything we do has consequences, even as we choose to wait and see. There is no way to see into the future, and “wishin’, hopin’, and prayin’ ” is just that. We ever and always start “right here, right now, as it is.” Pipedreams and magical thinking lead to treading water.
Acceptance and taking a step, however, has some serious possibility.
You can’t un-ring a bell
Finally, as I cross the threshold of a new decade-birthday, I am aware of the reality of all of the above theory. I have been reflecting on a lot of things for the last 4 weeks. Life and death, opportunities and dramas, friends found and friends lost. The above bell quote “rings true” (couldn’t resist…) for me.
We in actuality do walk along a path, or swim in a stream. The old line about swimming with the stream is so. Nothing stops us from swimming upstream, but in no way do we get anywhere. Time, choices, and directions are set in stone the minute we act.
I have several friends, right now, who are not acting for fear of not getting what they want, or for fear of criticism. Somehow, they are missing that day after day, after year, time is flowing away. Their inaction is not neutral. They are pissing away their lives, waiting.
Other friends are endlessly regretting their lives and decisions, adding their own “whipping” to the one they think the world has given them.
In the last month, have indulged in thinking or imagining where I would be today if I had taken the “other” path at significant junctures. I can say I have been thorough, in my examination, and I now am ready to tell you.
If I had made other decisions, I would be elsewhere!
And yet, after all of that, here I am.
I am pleased to be here, and fully cognizant of the decisions I have made to get here. I regret none of it, and would take none of it back. I am here with Dar, and a few significant others, and enjoying my presence with them. I hold others in my heart—some who have died, others who have drifted away. It’s all exactly as it is.
Not bad for an old guy, eh?
Happy birthday to me, indeed!