Sunday, July 28, 2013

Not Zen 69: Enough Detail

A young and successful businessman grew more wealthy year after year.  But eventually his small business hit a downturn.  He tried hiring and firing in the staff positions he suspected of causing him trouble.  He brought in a consultant for advice but he didn't agree with the results.  Finally, he went his his religious leader, a Quaker clerk, for advice.

His clerk happened to be a patron of his business.  That meant the Quaker leader was in a good position to understand the problems.  She had no financial interest either, so she could be counted on to remain impartial.

“Why have you come to me?” the clerk asked as they were introduced that morning.  She motioned for her parishioner to join her in sitting in wooden chairs, both on the same side of the clerk's desk.

The businessman took a seat.  He made himself comfortable and considered his words before he spoke.

“I'm worried about my best manager, Emily,” he said.

“That's a surprise.”  The clerk nodded for the speaker to continue.  She picked up a teapot that had been sitting on a warmer on the desk.  “I've heard nothing but good about Emily.”

“Well, I'm worried about my other manager, too.”

“Really?”  The clerk poured a cup of tea.  “I have only good reports of him as well.”

“But they talk.  They may say bad things about what I've been doing.”

“Are you ready for my advice?”  The clerk set down her tea untouched.

“I haven't told you my problem yet.”

“You have told me that you're worried to have good, sweet people work for you because they may say bad things.  That tells me enough to give you advice.”

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Not Zen 68: Crazy Aware

A psychiatrist and her patient rose from their chairs in her office.  They strolled out of the second floor suite and treaded down a flight of steps. Outside, they found bustling sidewalks and traffic-filled streets.  They skirted throngs of pedestrians and a convoy of bicyclists. The glare of the sun cast confusing shadows.  Around them, people moved from place to place.  There were sounds of metal on metal, of children yelling, of shoes on the sidewalks. The patient talked about his observations.

"I thought I was going to hate this," he admitted.  "But I like how everyone's keeping their distance.  They're ignoring us."

"Just to confirm, you were initially anxious about seeing the crowds?" his doctor asked.

"Of course.  I was only hiding it."

"You think so?  Well, we're all limited.  Not everyone can see themselves in the mirror."

"Not everyone is afraid of crowds the way I am."

"I meant something different," she said.  She led them toward an outdoor cafe.  Smells of food drifted on the breeze.  Customers huddled together in groups as they ate.  "Everyone knows a little bit of your feeling.  But mostly, other people have different problems.  I see a lot of problems in my line of work."

"Do other people hide their disabilities too?"

"They try.  Their problems aren't hidden for anyone who looks.  No one really conceals mental issues."

"I can hide mine.  I do it every day."

"You might think so but no, you don't.  How can I explain?"  The psychiatrist sighed.  She took them around the sidewalk to the other side of the crowds.  Her patient stepped out in the street at first.  It took him in a few seconds to build up the nerve to follow her.  "You wouldn't be under this illusion if you were missing a finger.  You would know that people must notice.  It might take them a minute or two but it would be inevitable.  With emotional problems, it's the same."

"You think my fears are as noticeable as a missing finger?"

"If you and a friend sat down for lunch, in time your friend would forget the missing finger." She pointed to a group of diners.  They spoke animatedly with their upper bodies and ignored everyone else. "But mental problems become more obvious over time, not less.  They're in every choice you make, every word you utter, every glance, every gesture."

"That's awful."

"It's natural.  Your actions are shaped in every instant by your perception of the world, same as they are for everyone else.  That's why I think you'll improve."

"You think you can train me to lose my fears because everyone else is messed up?"

"I think you can succeed because you allow for the possibility that your perceptions are wrong. You check them and make corrections. That puts you ahead of people who are fooled by their senses all the time but never question what they perceive."

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Not Zen 67: Reversal of Movement

"You wear suits now?" exclaimed the visitor.

John unbuttoned his jacket and hung it over his office chair.  He nodded.  With his left hand, he picked up a stack of papers.

His hair had turned gray during his years of work for charities.  Then he'd started his own cause.  He'd built a mid-sized enterprise that served health care to the poor.  Where once he had greeted every visitor in faded, torn clothes, he now solicited donations in a suit.  Where once his office had been open to the street, now its door lay wide to a reception area.

"Yes, I wear nice clothes," he said.  He didn't stop his work to chat with the visitor.  He read the final paragraph of the top document and signed it.

"And you have a bed in your office?"  His visitor pointed to the cot in the corner.

"Yes."  He signed another form.  "My back thinks that it's old and fragile.  It doesn't like me to sleep on chairs or on the floor."

"You sleep at the office?"

"I've always slept in my offices.  But I've never had a bed before last year."

"You nap during the day?"

"No."  The administrator looked up.  "I know you give money here and you seem shocked.  But I make fold-out beds available to all my staff.  It encourages them to stay."

"I see."  The visitor looked around uncomfortably at the rich surroundings.  "The place has grown a lot since I was here last."

"Yes.  I can tell you approved of poverty better."  The administrator sighed and sat down behind his desk.  "I did, too.  I thought that depriving myself of material goods would improve my spirit.  Thanks to people like you, I found myself surrounded by plenty.  I sought to give joy to others.  Soon I found myself happy."

"Ah," said the visitor.  He walked to the open doorway.  He saw a doctor pass by, then another.  "Now I understand.  You have invoked the rule of reversal of movement.  To achieve something, you first explore its opposite."

"I doubt it. "  John turned back to his papers.  “I didn't know about anything called that.  It doesn't sound like it should work.”

"I've doubted the principle, too.  But your life exemplifies it.  Don't you explore a lot of sickness here?"

"More than I'd imagined possible."

"Same principle.  By exploring sickness, you achieve health."

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Not Zen 66: Home Temple

A young man became engaged to an older woman. Everyone in their village thought it would be an excellent match. But on the eve of the marriage, he called off the ceremony. Without consulting anyone, not even his closest friends, he left his home and traveled to the nearest monastery.

His fiance knew that this was something he'd considered. She had, too. In fact, she had taken him on a tour of the local holy sites. She had an easy time tracking him. However, when she went to visit her lover, the monks would not allow her in.

She climbed the hill next to the compound and spotted her man meditating in the eastern courtyard. She hiked to the east wall. With the help of a pear tree, she scaled the wall and, unhurt by the drop on the other side, she strode to confront her lover.

His head was shaved and he wore a saffron robe. He seemed unsurprised by her presence. But he did not call for the other monks. She sat and adopted a pose of meditation similar to his.

"Are you at peace?" she asked after a while.

"I think I am coming to inner peace, yes," he replied.

"Did we have happiness at home? I thought we did, both of us."

"We did. Very much. But what is worldly happiness compared to eternal happiness?"

"It's nothing, of course. And what about love?"

"What about it? What is love compared to enlightenment?"

"They're teaching you nothing," she said sternly. "I taught you more. What is enlightenment without love that flows naturally from it? Aren't they joined? Shouldn't you know?"

The young man had no reply. The next day, he asked his teacher this question about love from enlightenment. He was not satisfied with the answer. A day later, he asked again and perceived a similar evasion. So he returned to his home town. He made apologies to his friends. Then he married the woman who had shown him the way to and from the temple.