How It Is

How It Is — Acting is one thing–letting go of expectations regarding the action is the key!

how it isAnd…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!

Make Contact!

So, how does this week’s article sit with you? What questions do you have? Leave a comment or question!

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

10 thoughts on “How It Is”

  1. I can’t know in advance what someone might choose to find “unnecessary.”
    “will choose not to like it”

    You are choosing to defend a word that’s not even in the dictionary (or at least MY dictionary).

    It’s certainly not something we teach a child to say so it must not be a good word. If it was a proper word(meant to be spoken) you’d think it would be there. Is that or is that not a fact?

    Then where does that word belong? In the garbage.

    Please take out the trash.

    P/S Once you have cleaned the filth from your mouth/mind I wouldn’t mind hearing what else you may have to say. You can now “choose” not to be offended by that.

    • well yikes.

      Certainly been the week for people choosing to offend themselves over my writing style. I’m so delighted when people read my articles, think, “This is not for me,’ and vanish into the ether. I’m surprised when strangers think I’d actually change what I’m doing here, based upon their prejudices (pre-judgements.)

      Clearly, then don’t know me… 😉

      The comment my reader is offending herself over is: “Pissing away” emphasis on pissing. Bodily function references are apparently not allowed in Never-Never-land.

      I decided to work with this last note, in a process I fondly call “deconstruction.”

      The word is not in her dictionary. (it is online at ) — a fairly good dictionary, but that’s hardly the point. She has a dictionary, and I’ve clearly violated it!

      I imagine the Taliban has a dictionary or rule book to define how a woman is to dress. I choose not to subscribe to that dictionary.

      I really don’t care about her dictionary. I would be more interested if she had simply written that she was choosing to upset herself over my word choice, as opposed to arguing from the “my dictionary is bigger than your dictionary” place. Sort of sound like kids in a school-yard. I respect dialogue — demanding that I change to make her happy? Not so much!

      Good word.” According to whom? I judge my word usage on what appeals to me, not on “consensus.” As I wrote, above, in my comment, I write what I write, and you, dear reader, can choose to read or not.

      Proper word” see above reference — and it’s “proper” to me, not, obviously, to her.

      She’d like the word pissing, “in the garbage.” Good. Place it there. Never utter it. Wonderful! How self-responsible!

      I on the other hand, choose to use it as I use it.

      Please take out the trash.” My, my, my. Judgemental. Nothing like self-righteousness!

      …filth from your mouth/mind” — yikes again. “If you don’t do what I want you to, I’ll take my marbles and run all the way home, and then I’ll… I’ll… tell my mommy!!!” Yikes.

      I’m imagining that I sense a little anger and hostility with her here…

      Read the blog. Do not read the blog. I am delighted with either. And why would I ever choose to offend myself over the interesting ramblings of a stranger??

      I do of course choose not to offend myself. I’m grateful for something to do this warm afternoon. I read your words, listen to the hum of the dehumidifier, and find myself having difficulty telling them apart.

      Oh. And since there seems to be a Buddhist reference in the initial correspondence, let me leave you with one of the koan stories of Unmon: (number 21)

      A monk asked Unmon, “What is Buddha?”
      Unmon replied, “A dry shit-stick!”

      I’m sure Unmon is waiting to hear from you! Oh. Right. He’s a dead master… too bad you weren’t there to save him!

      (If any of the rest of you want to get into a discussion of the meaning of the koan, please drop me a comment.)

      Donna? have a great life — and don’t forget to pack your dictionary!

  2. They are pissing away their lives, waiting.”

    This comment just didn’t sit well with me. I was listening to a meditation audio book just this week where a lady used an “unnecessary” term such as that and all of a sudden my interest just died.

    It sparked a memory of something I read in the book “Buddha: His life and Teachings.” (pg 127)
    “Simha’s faith in the Blessed One increased. He replied:’ Had other teachers, Lord, succeeded in making me their disciple, they would carry around their banners through the whole city…”

    Was you “half asleep” when you wrote that?

    • Took me a minute to find the line…
      I don’t know if you know my “back story” — I was a Minister for 13 years, until they “invited me to leave.” (Long story.) One of the best lessons I learned, and hopefully taught to newbies, was this: Never attempt to “preach” in a way that others will not choose to offend themselves over.
      Sometimes, I’ll run a picture, and people will choose not to like it. Or I’ll use a term, or an illustration, with the same effect.
      The issue for me is that this goes out to a lot of people, and I can’t know in advance what someone might choose to find “unnecessary.”
      So, I “get” that you chose to find the remark off-putting. I do not believe that I was “half asleep…” I trust that I chose the phrase that best captured my impression of my friends’ behaviour at the time.
      Trusting that you might re-read the rest of the article, and find some value!
      Warmly, Wayne

  3. Happy belated Birthday, and happy New Year to you as well!
    I think that this article is going to swirl in my head for a while. I am (was?) convinced that accepting responsibility for the consequences of my actions was part of making choices. This is going to make me consider motivation a little bit differently. Thank you- I always appreciate things that make me think 🙂

    • Hi Ang,
      Well, let’s explore this.
      I confront a situation. My action is the result of two things 1) knowing what has worked in the past in similar situations, and 2) knowing and avoiding what hasn’t worked. I also have a destination in mind.
      Example: I want to communicate clearly. I know that using a Comm. Model works, and that yelling doesn’t. My goal is to state my position responsibly and clearly.
      If you notice, the consequence of my action is not considered, for one reason — I can’t know the consequence until I act! I can pretend to know, or freeze myself “until I know for sure,” but I only know for sure as I act.
      I am completely responsible for my analysis of what works and want doesn’t, and for what I say or do. I am not, ever, responsible for what others choose as a result.
      I then repeat the process, taking into consideration the response of the other person or the situation. Again, as I do this, I am responsible for me and my process as I work through what I will chose to do next. In no way, then, am I basing my actions on trying to get others to do what I want them to.
      Hope that is clearer!


  4. I look forward to reading and reflecting upon your posts each week. I am happy for you (and the world) that you’re in it and that you’ve got such a great way of communicating your thoughts. I’ve been on a path of self-discovery/knowledge for a long time now and find your no BS way of putting things well matched to what I need to hear. Thank you…And congrats on reaching such a milestone and having no regrets.

    • Hi Kathy,
      Thanks for the kind words. I’m also glad to still be in the world, and considering some of my past choices, it’s a miracle 😉
      Looking forward to another year of posting, and I hope you’ll continue commenting.

  5. Nice one to start the New Year with…I didn’t quite follow the section about the mother-in-law and the bear…though…?? R

    • Hey Ray,
      I meant to go take a photo of the thing. My point was that we often stop ourselves from acting for silly reasons, like talking to ourselves in a mirror — you first, no you first — and somehow pretend that this is real.
      Glad you liked the article!


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