Sunday, January 25, 2015

Not Zen 146: Best

The lead bull of the harbor seals flipped his tail and turned into the jaws of a shark.  Even the shark was surprised.  If the creature had been less in size than a great white, perhaps the bull seal would have won the battle.  Instead, the confrontation ended in an instant.

The herd scattered into the shallows to escape the blood and thrashing.  Soon after, they clambered onto the shore for added safety.

"Why did he charge?" said next strongest bull.  "He went straight at it."

"Straight to his death," said his younger friend.  "He was always a strange one.  Moody."

"But he was the best."

Their leader had been the mightiest among them for years.  He'd hunted the fastest cod and whitefish.  He'd dived the deepest, two hundred feet to the crabs on the ocean floor.  He'd broken through the toughest ice on their long journeys, had scouted for bears, and had defended the herd against walruses.

When it became popular in the warm months for the seals to tend gardens of sea urchins and starfish, he strove to tend the wildest, largest area.  When others feared to approach a large octopus that followed the seal pups, he confronted the beast and bit off one of its legs.
Until today, their leader had been content to swim rings around sharks.  He could turn his body faster than any predator could chase.  In past years, he'd used his agility to tease them.  He won at everything.  Yet always he was dissatisfied.  Always, as some of his rivals observed, he was moody.

A group of males gathered to watch the waters.  They looked for signs of more sharks.  While they did, they barked to one another in alarm.  Their leader's death created a void.

"He never knew peace," a bull remarked to his uncle.  His gray-furred relative ambled over.

"This is the case," his uncle agreed.  He lowered his head, more interested in his nephew than in sharks.  "He always competed.  You were his best rival."

"Why wasn't he happy?  If I accomplished so much, I would be happy."

"That is what you think.  But you've already accomplished much and you're not happy.  He accomplished more.  It did not bring him happiness."

"I will accomplish more and be greater than ever."


"But something is wrong with me, too.  I will fight and fight and never be at peace."

"You talk as if you will attain peace through violence.  Still, I know what you mean.  The inner calm you admire is not obtained by fulfilling your desires."  The uncle shook his head.  "It comes from the removal of desire."

"I must let go of my ambitions?  Truly?"

"To be at peace in your heart, there is no other way."


  1. In response to a really good comment on G+: there are good habits that everyone can develop and I can speak to two habits that I cultivate personally.

    1) Reflexively let go of developing attachments as they're noticed

    This has been a good one for me and I don't feel it's been difficult. It's like reminding oneself to clean, to write, or to do other things. A little mindfulness goes a long way. On the other hand, I've maintained the habit for years so I may not remember how much work it was to create initially. Maintaining habits is easier than creating them, for sure.

    2) Lessen attachments that are kept

    There are practical reasons to hold some material goals in mind. Jobs, constructive efforts, parental tasks, charity deeds, and other actions require mindfulness to the flow of the material world. These objects of attention need a light touch. Attachments to them can be - should be -discarded as soon as the necessity of them no longer applies.

    Other people may have better practices for them, of course, but these have been useful for me.

  2. A very good piece and the practices you have mentioned help someone figure out how to start. :)