4 April 2017      

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 Beginner's Mind
Christina Feldman

from The Wayfarer on the Open Road
Ralph Waldo Trine

Choosing the Harder Path
tom walsh

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The true object of all human life is play.  Earth is a task garden; heaven is a playground.

G. K. Chesterton

It’s only in our minds that we are
separate from the rest of the world.

Gay Luce

When you know what your values are,
making decisions becomes easier.

Glenn van Eckeren

  

Beginner's Mind
Christine Feldman

The real voyage of discovery lies not in finding
new landscapes, but in having new eyes.

Marcel Proust

A young woman returning from work was involved in a car accident that left her with severe head injuries.  After several days in a coma, she awoke in hospital only to discover that she didn't know who she was.  Not only had she forgotten herself but also everything and everyone in her life.  Her initial panic was eased by the doctors' reassurance that her memory was likely to return.  As the days passed in the hospital, she was much comforted by the visits from many kind people who spent time with her, who seemed to know who she was.  There was one elderly man who spent hours by her bedside, sometimes reading to her, sometimes telling her stories of her life, and often just sitting quietly with her.  In the comfort offered by his undemanding presence, she could share the anxieties and fears so alive in her heart.

Her memory began to return, vague fragments and images triggering greater and greater detail, until her life and story were once again accessible to her.  The recovery of her memory was not only a recovery of herself but also of everyone in her life.  The kind, understanding man she had been so reassured by was her father, whom she shared a troubled history with.  To their amazement they discovered that her recovery enabled them to pick up their arguments at the very point they had left them before her accident.

Soon they found themselves fighting familiar battles and all the old stories were recycled.  The peaceful, intimate moments they had shared during her crisis became distant memories, lost in the intensity of their frustration, impatience, and struggle with each other.  Once in a while they would look at each other and remember those blessed moments when no history stood between them.

Tragedy and amnesia are not recommended ways to cultivate a beginner's mind.  Yet the beginner's mind is a pivotal key to unlocking the peace of simplicity.  It is the simple clarity of the beginner's mind that enables us to enter each moment, relationship, and encounter free of prejudice and history.  The cultivation of the beginner's mind is what frees us to greet every moment in our life with an openhearted welcome, to see ourselves, other people, and all of life anew; to be able to make new beginnings.

We collect, store, and accumulate so much weight in this life.  The thousands of thoughts, ideas, and plans we have are imprinted on our minds.  We have engaged in countless conversations and have replayed many of them over and over again.  We have moved from one experience to another, one encounter to another, and we think about them all.  Information and knowledge has been gathered, digested, and stored, and we carry all of this with us.  This input forms our story, the story we have about people, ourselves, and the world.  Experiencing the chaos and turbulence of the saturated mind and heart, forgetfulness may look like a blessing.  Yet our innate capacity to receive the world, a source of both complexity and of compassion, will always be with us.

The beginner's mind has a simple vocabulary founded upon questioning and the willingness to learn.  There are Zen meditative traditions that rest upon bringing one simple question into each moment:  "What is this?"  Whatever arises in our hearts, minds, and bodies is greeted with a probing investigation.  What is this thought, this body, this experience, this feeling, this interaction, this moment?  It is a question intended to dissolve all assumptions, images, opinions, and familiarity.  It is a question that brings a welcoming presence into each moment; a question that perceives neither obstacles nor enemies; a question that appreciates the rich seam of learning offered in every encounter and moment.  It is an "every moment" practice, in which our capacity to listen and attend unconditionally is treasured as the means of transformation.

The expert's mind has a different vocabulary, expressing a devotion to "knowing" deeper than the devotion to freedom.  The expert's mind is the mind entangled with its history, accumulated opinions and judgments, and past experience.  The most frequently occurring word in the mind of the expert is "again."  What a long story the word "again" can carry.  We can sense the shutters of our heart closing as we whisper to ourselves, "This thought, this feeling, this pain, this person again."  The intrusion of the past with all its comparisons, weariness, aversion, or boredom has the power to create a powerful disconnection in that moment.  The word "again" carries with it the voice of knowing, fixing, and dismissing, and with its appearance we say farewell to mystery, to wonder, to openness, and to learning.  Whenever we are not touched deeply by the moment we say farewell to the beginner's mind.  An ancient teacher reminds us, "There is great enlightenment where there is great wonder. . . ."

How much of the knowledge, information, and strategies of our story serve us well?  In our life story we experience hurt, pain, fear and rejection, at times caused by others, at others self-inflicted.  Understanding what causes sorrow, pain, and devastation translates into discriminating wisdom, and we do not knowingly expose ourselves to these conditions.  We are all asked to make wise choices in our lives--choices rooted in understanding rather than fear.

The Buddha used the analogy of a raft.  Walking beside a great river, the bank we are standing on is dangerous and frightening and the other bank is safe.  We collect branches and foliage to build a raft to transport us to the other shore.  Having made the journey safely, supposing we picked up the raft and carried it on our head wherever we went.  Would we be using the raft wisely?  The obvious answer is "No."  A reasonable person would know how useful the raft has been, but wisdom would be to leave the raft behind and walk on unencumbered.
   
   

As a mother, a layperson and an internationally renowned teacher, Feldman knows the stresses and strains of modern life. In this book she shows how to harmonize and achieve balance and how to apply Buddhist wisdom to the here and now. She addresses subjects of compassion, speech, effort, intention, mindfulness and awakening. The path to peace, she suggests, is not necessarily complex or arduous. If we simply turn our attention to this moment, it will speak to us of wonder, mystery, harmony and peace. She demonstrates that there is no better moment in which to awaken and discover everything our heart longs for than this very moment.

   

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From The Wayfarer on the Open Road
Ralph Waldo Trine

4.  To love the fields and the wild flowers, the stars, the far-open sea, the soft, warm earth, and to live much with them alone; but to love struggling and weary men and women and every pulsing, living creature better.

OUR complex modern life, especially in our larger centers, gets us running so many times into grooves that we are prone to miss, and sometimes for long periods, the all-round, completer life. We are led at times almost to forget that the stars come nightly to the sky, or even that there is a sky; that there are hedgerows and groves where the birds are always singing and where we can lie on our backs and watch the treetops swaying above us and the clouds floating by an hour or hours at a time; where one can live with his soul or, as Whitman has put it, where one can loaf and invite his soul.

We need changes from the duties and the cares of our accustomed everyday life. They are necessary for healthy, normal living.  We need occasionally to be away from our friends, our relatives, from the members of our immediate households. Such changes are good for us; they are good for them.  We appreciate them better, they us, when we are away from them for a period, or they from us.

We need these changes occasionally in order to find new relations—this in a twofold sense.  By such changes there come to our minds more clearly the better qualities of those with whom we are in constant association; we lose sight of the little frictions and irritations that arise; we see how we can be more considerate, appreciative, kind.

In one of those valuable essays of Prentice Mulford entitled ''Who Are Our Relations?" he points us to the fact, and with so much insight and common sense, that our relations are not always or necessarily those related to us by blood ties, those of our immediate households, but those most nearly allied to us in mind and in spirit, many times those we have never seen, but that we shall sometime, somewhere be drawn to through the ceaselessly working Law of Attraction, whose basis is that like attracts like.  And so in staying too closely with the accustomed relations we may miss the knowledge and the companionship of those equally or even more closely related.

We need these changes to get the kinks out of our minds, our nerves, our muscles—the cobwebs off our faces.  We need them to whet again the edge of appetite.  We need them to invite the mind and the soul to new possibilities and powers.  We need them in order to come back with new implements, or with implements redressed, sharpened, for the daily duties.  It is like the chopper working too long with axe unground.  There comes the time when an hour at the stone will give it such persuasive power that he can chop and cord in the day what he otherwise would in two or more, and with far greater ease and satisfaction.

We need periods of being by ourselves—alone.  Sometimes a fortnight or even a week will do wonders for one, unless he or she has drawn too heavily upon the account.  The simple custom, moreover, of taking an hour, or even a half hour, alone in the quiet, in the midst of the daily routine of life, would be the source of inestimable gain for countless numbers.

If such changes can be in closer contact with the fields and with the flowers that are in them, the stars and the sea that lies open beneath them, the woods and the wild things that are of them, one cannot help but find himself growing in love for and an ever fuller appreciation of these, and being at the same time so remade and unfolded that his love, his care, and his consideration for all mankind and for every living creature, will be the greater.

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I knew another man, the late Harlow B. Andrews of Syracuse, New York,
who had this same kind of approach.  "Let's see what possibilities there
are in this situation," he would say, while others sat around taking dismal
views of everything.  It was amazing how often he found possibilities, too,
and then the gloom artists would wonder why they hadn't seen them.  The
answer was that the possibilitarian was always looking for answers and
they never were.  You usually find just about what you really look for.

Norman Vincent Peale
The Joy of Living

   

 

Choosing the Harder Path

Imagine two roads stretching ahead of you--one is beautiful and well worn with lush surroundings, and the other looks rocky and difficult.  Someone tells you that they've been down both paths, and the one on the right will give you a peaceful, easy journey with lots of beautiful scenery, while the one on the left also offers beautiful scenery, but the path is so difficult that you often won't notice it.  There's the chance of minor injuries because of all the obstacles on the path, though it certainly isn't life-threatening unless you do something really, really stupid.  Both paths will get you to your destination at about the same time.

Which path would you choose?

On the one path, of course, you'll probably relax more and be able to think of things other than your journey.  But of course, you'll also not have the benefit of any sort of adversity to help you to learn and to grow as a person.  The reality of the situation is that the path on the left is probably going to be the most beneficial to you in the long run, for there you'll learn about your own limits and abilities, and you'll learn to really appreciate the paths like those on the right when they come up in your life.

How many of us, though, have been taught or conditioned to avoid the difficult paths because of the potential danger that they represent?  How many of us shy away from conflict because it may harm us somehow?  How often do we choose the easiest path because we just don't have the confidence in our own abilities to weather the storms or make our ways over difficult terrain?  How many of us talk ourselves out of taking the riskier trail because we simply don't trust ourselves to navigate it successfully?

   

There's a tremendous amount to be gained through what appears to
be adversity.  If we don't allow the crisis, these challenges to take
place, then we remain fixed in life and never really ripen or mature.

Thomas More

   
We've all known people who have gone through difficult struggles in their lives and have become stronger, more compassionate, and more caring people.  We've also seen people who have had to face struggles and who have become bitter and angry and resentful.  Some people argue that the struggles bring out our true natures, and that the bitter people would be unhappy even if they had no struggles to face.  While I can't prove that claim one way or another, my experience tells me that there's something to that.  I've known many people who are bitter and unhappy even if their lives are going very well.  So for some of us, it wouldn't matter at all which road we decide to take--and the easy one may be best because it will keep us from spreading our bitterness to others as much.

But for the rest of us, it may be worth considering which road would be the best for us.  I know, for example, that if I'm training in an athletic event and I want to get better, I'm going to need to push myself significantly, and the flat easy road will not be the best for me.  If I want to be a better runner, I need the hills and I need to push myself to the limits of my abilities.

That said, though, I also need the easy days to balance out the struggles of pushing myself.  I need easy runs to allow my body to rest and recover from the previous day's difficult run.  Any runner who constantly trains and never has rest days or easy days is simply going to wear her or his body down, lowering performance because the body never has any recovery time.

Which helps us to see that sometimes that easy road is our best choice.  I've gone through many, many struggles in my life, and one thing that I take very seriously is my need to not be struggling all the time.  I still take the more difficult road very often, but I also make sure to take that easy road now and then.  The easy, beautiful roads are one of those gifts of life that we really do need to take advantage of if we're to remind ourselves of the beauty and wonder of this world of ours.

The important thing is not to always choose the easy road.
   

Adversity introduces a person to him or herself.  On the occasion of every accident that befalls you, remember to turn to yourself and inquire what power you have for turning it to use.

Epictetus

   
It does take significant levels of self-awareness to know when we're strong enough to take the difficult roads and to know when we need to take the easy road.  We have to know when it's good to take on a new challenge and when it's better to rest.  It's important to be aware of when we're at our strongest and when we're weaker.

But it's also important to realize that sometimes life is going to throw adversity our way without a single care as to whether or not we're strong enough to handle it.

And when that happens, we have no choice but to face that problem or issue.  What's important to me when that happens is not to try to avoid it, but to face it and deal with it as soon as possible.  At such times, I always remind myself of the truth that life doesn't throw at us situations that are too difficult for us to handle--they may be hard to get through, but we do have the strength to do so.  We have to have faith in ourselves, faith in life, faith in a higher power, and faith in the fact that we will grow in facing the challenge if we're to make the experience a positive part of our lives.

For example, when I was laid off of a job because the school had severe financial problems, I viewed it as a challenge rather than as a catastrophe.  I knew that it wasn't the end of the world and that I would get by, but I could make the recovery from the incident miserable or positive by my own attitude towards it.  I sent out applications, I worked on other things, and I stayed productive, but my wife and I got through it fine, when all is said and done.  We lost the house that we had just bought to foreclosure, but given the work situation in that town, we wouldn't have been able to stay there anyway.  I ended up getting a job elsewhere, which started a process of traveling and starting new jobs that led to some unique and fascinating times for us.
   

Comfort and prosperity have never enriched the world as much
as adversity has.  Out of pain and problems have come the
sweetest songs, and the most gripping stories.

Billy Graham

    
Don't avoid the difficult things in life.  While I wouldn't search them out just for the sake of searching them out, it's important to keep in mind that they are precisely the things that can help us to grow and learn in life, that can bring us important lessons that we really do need to learn, and that we can't learn otherwise.  We're taught far too much to avoid problems, when it's the facing and overcoming of problems that are the main way that we grow in life.  If we want to be better and stronger tomorrow than we are today, we can't simply seek out comfort and avoid adversity--we need to sometimes seek out adversity and avoid the comfort, for it's the comfort that often puts us in ruts and keeps us from growing.
   

   
More on adversity.

   

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There is a tendency among many shallow thinkers of our day to teach that every human act is a reflex, over which we do not exercise human control. They would rate a generous deed as no more praiseworthy than a wink, a crime as no more voluntary than a sneeze. . .  Such a philosophy undercuts all human dignity. . .  All of us have the power of choice in action at every moment
of our lives.

F
ulton J. Sheen

  
Patience is learning how to wait when you really don't want to.  It's discovering things you like to do while you're waiting, and becoming so happy with. . . what you're doing that you forget you're waiting.  Patience is taking time every day to dream your dreams and develop the confidence in yourself to change your dreams into reality.  Patience is being good to yourself and having the faith to hold on to your dreams, even as days go by when you can't see how they will come true.
  
Patience is loving others
even when they disappoint you
and you don't understand them.  It's knowing how to let go and accept others as they are and forgive them for things they have done.  Patience is loving yourself and giving yourself time to grow; it's doing things that keep you healthy and happy, and it's knowing that you deserve the best in life and are willing to work for it, no matter how long it takes.
  
Patience is being willing to face whatever challenges life gives you, realizing that life has also given you the strength and courage to endure and deal with each challenge.  Patience is the ability to continue to love and laugh no matter what your circumstances may be, because you recognize that in time those circumstances will change, and that love and laughter are what give life deeper meaning, and you the determination to continue to have patience.

Donna Levine
   

  

I have told you of those who always put on their spectacles when about
to eat cherries, in order that the fruit might look larger and more
tempting.  In like manner I always make the most of any enjoyments,
and, though I do not cast my eyes away from troubles, I pack them into
as small a compass as I can for myself, and never let them annoy others.

Robert Southey

    

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