Well, Dar’s semi responsible, again, for this week’s Into the Centre – with all of our cleaning, she found some pages she’d saved from a book called Zen and the Art of the Macintosh.
I’m amazed at the interesting quotes found in that folder, and appropriately too.
Here’s this week’s topic: (pg. 191)
The key is a little detachment. Only when we loosen the knots of our fascination with surface glitter can we proceed further. Into the deeper waters.
And on page 192 – So the mind of the superior man: It begins to work only when a duty arises; becomes a void when the matter ends. (quoting Hung Tzu-chen)
You’d be surprised how many people ask about this topic, which is really a question of life focus. A friend wrote to me precisely about this, when she asked,
“This living in the moment thing doesn’t seem to be the best idea for me. My troubles begin when I am content and happy in the moment and I want it to continue. I look for ways in my head of how to make that happen and the ideas comfort me and provide me with a focus which is usually short lived because nothing happens quickly enough and in my world there are way too many distractions which I allow.
I feel like a nut case because I can’t seem to stay focussed on one thing (unless it’s a physical task) and I guess, I’d like to have the experience of staying focussed on working on me without being drawn in to what someone else is doing. It’s to the point right now where even if I’m given time for myself, I’m not entirely sure what to do with it so I guess I look for distractions.
How do you do it …focus on discovering what you want to do for you, making plans to fulfill that and still share yourself with Dar, your friends, clients and family and live in the moment?”
We’d best begin with the idea of detachment.
We can create all kinds of levels of detachment, and because of the tendency to escape personal responsibility, most people end up making an endless list of externals to detach from. This can either be a “present external” (work, spouse, the way the world is, etc. ) or an “internal external” (stories of other people or situations from your past.) The latter are tricky, as we think we’re dealing with something real, as opposed to a story we are telling ourselves.
Now, think about this carefully.
Imagine that there is a part of you (we call this the small self or the ego) that desperately wants you to stay stuck in a small, inconsequential, turmoil filled life. This part can create a million stories, and all of them are negative. This part draws us to the surface of things – to “the glitter” — to the drama in our heads. As the quote above states, we are fascinated by glitter.
So, we’ll get drawn into the words, and a fight ensues. We’re drawn into the look on a face or the tone of voice, and we seem lost and abandoned. Everything becomes more than it is – and drama makes it so. In the harsh light of too-studied focus, on old, old stories… everything is… too much.
Many moons ago, our friends took us to Stage West, a (near) Toronto dinner theatre. The show was “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.”
Now, I don’t know about you, but watching attractive, scantily clad women cavort across a stage is, for me, a pleasant experience. From a distance and with the right perspective, there are few things nicer.
We didn’t get that opportunity.
Not sure how it happened, but our table was right against the front of the stage. This presented several problems.
First of all, from a purely physical perspective, to watch the show required that we look up and to the side, or to look up and sit side-saddle. And that was the least of the problems, because…
Second, the women in the cast were dressed in lingerie and flesh coloured pantyhose, or fishnet stockings. We were sitting within touching distance of them, and below them.
The closer they got to the edge of the stage, the less we saw of any part of them above the crotch.
In short order, We knew:
- who the real blonde was.
- who had shaved that morning Or that month!) and who hadn’t.
- that theatres patch, rather than replace costumes, and
- that the patches only have to approximate the colour of the surrounding fabric.
- We also discovered that even dancers get cellulite.
At first, this “crotch-eye view” was semi-amusing. After a while, we knew first hand why gynecologists are not turned on by their work.
Detachment requires taking a step back from the drama on one’s personal stage, so that one can see what else is going on. In a sense, perspective is only possible with a bit of distance.
Dar and I just caught an art show at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO,) on the dawn of Impressionism – using the works of Turner, Whistler and Monet as examples. Early Impressionist paintings were roundly condemned by the Realists for being vague, abstract and “unfinished.” Not glittery enough, in other words.
The Impressionists captured the essence of the subject by stepping away from the surface. They explored the interplay between dark and light, form and formlessness. To truly appreciate an Impressionist painting requires the active participation of the observer – a sliding beneath the surface of things.
The quote from Hung Tzu-chen provides a clue – he insists that the mind is best used by making it active only when “work” needs to be done. He is not suggesting a life of unconsciousness – he is suggesting that endless mental chatter is the mark of an unenlightened person.
This concept is not easy, and living it is harder still. Our culture tells us that thinking is crucial, and many are the clients who continue to torture themselves with the idea that they must understand. So simplistic is this idea that it can be reduced to this: “I should be happy all the time, and I’m not, so I have to figure out why and fix it.”
My friend’s note contains this concept: ” My troubles begin when I am content and happy in the moment and I want it to continue. I look for ways in my head of how to make that happen…”
The principal error here is contained in the clause, “…and I want it to continue.” The scary, hard truth of life is that absolutely nothing continues. Including you. The only constant is change, as they say.
Another way to look at this is to note the accuracy of the words, “I am content and happy in the moment…” I would agree.
What is not true, and yet ever so hard to get past, is demonstrated by slightly changing this sentence: I am content and happy because of the moment.
I trust you can see the difference, the profound difference, between these concepts. The first implies a state of being – a choice of approach to the moment. The second, which is a far more prevalent way of thinking, is that happiness is determined by what is happening to us (“poor, helpless victim of my circumstances” mode.)
To return to the note: “…and I want it to continue.” See above. Nothing continues. Yet we believe it somehow “should.” We want love, happiness, and contentment to last forever (or we want the absence of pain to last forever – equally impossible.) When it doesn’t, we make ourselves miserable.
Nothing lasts. No thing lasts.
What does last is not a thing – what lasts is the energy, or spirit, or chi, of the universe. Infinite in its permutations and bottomless in its depths, it’s the land beneath the surface of things. We swim in it, breathe it, live it. Mostly, however, we do this unaware.
Until we choose to bring our attention and intention both inward and outward, yet away from the surface of things. We then notice that the infinite store of chi is consistent in its flow and direction. It requires of us only one thing – that we get out of our heads, our judgments, our desires for “happiness” long enough to exist in the moment. In each breath.
Without trying to speak for Dar, our approach is to have our feelings, be present with each other, and to experience what life offers.
Do I whine about being hard done by? Sure. Because in that moment, that’s what I need to do. Do I judge it to be a bad experience? No. It is simply another experience. Do I attempt to make life cooperate with my desires? No. Life will do what life will do, and surprises are the name of the game.
Just when we think we know what is going on, something else comes along and we are either knocked off balance or simply reminded (re-minded – given a new mind) that our goal is to let go and get on with things.
Mostly, though, I just hang out with Dar, and with myself. My goal is to be alive while I am. To be aware of myself and my games. To be generous with my time and committed in my efforts.
To see through the surface to the depths. To step back in order to see more clearly. To understand that all things are impressions as opposed to realities. To know that I order my universe and therefore choose my definitions.
Knowing this, I can rest in the “sea of chi,” and let life and me unfold. The unfolding is in the depth of the universe, and in the depth of me. There, I shine the light of simple presence. Mostly, it’s enough.
In the end, you can watch the play or fixate on the “patch.” (Yes, I get my own joke…) Wisdom requires a free flow between the two, without judgment.
Blonde or not…