Our Way of Looking at Things (written 2007)
“...our minds, our attitudes, our preferences, and our ways
of looking at the outside world can be changed. Effort,
introspection and clarity, applied with the Breath, do change
our way of looking at things.”
from Golden Wind, Zen Talks by Eido Shimano Roshi
Reading an obscure and puzzling teisho talk of several pages, my mind holds onto a few lines that are straight forward, instructive, reassuring. Until I begin to ponder them.
I know my way of looking at things has changed mightily but it is like surgery, perhaps more painful in the short term. So that the material, the trivial, the escapes and sensory pleasures begin to worry at me and lead me to despair. So too time and its passing. The forgetfulness of our society, of each of us, living “as if” we were in control and time a commodity we can somehow conjure more of. It's not like love. Boundless and bottomless. You cannot give away enough love to find yourself with none remaining. But time? You can fritter it in front of computer screens and TV's. You can set it loose and squander it in self-absorbed or even destructive patterns. The measure before you is ever less. And yet teachers remind me of the eternity in this moment, this breath, this now.
Why is despair so easy for me to touch these days? And joy is like a rainbow I glimpse and lose even as I am looking. The despair instead like the ground beneath my feet. So solid and real. I have toyed now and then with the idea of seeking counsel or even medication and reject both ideas before they are fully formed. I could not relate in counsel with anyone not sharing this world view of mine. I am become a minority. Interesting. Revealing. It leads to new empathy and compassion for whole segments of our culture...immigrants, first nations. A shared ground is needed for this work. And medication would distance me from what I need to let arise and to let go. For what I need to see and know. Indeed, the pleasures, distractions and technologies of today are medications in their own right. A part, a large part, of the problem. People do not stop, be still and listen...
“Effort, introspection and clarity applied with the breath.” I think of another teacher who advises we feel the breath, not watch it. And sitting I let this be like the wave of the ocean. The breathing of the earth, the world. Fleetingly I feel the breath of each individual...faces and postures flitting through. The grouse who hit the window yesterday and rested in the snow, breathing and recuperating. My sons breathing in this house. Those in hospitals connected to machines. Breathing, being. Sitting in the awful Australian heat, breathing. The homeless here in Whitecourt, hunched over fires in tents in the woods, a news article says, breathing through winter. Our cat watching the grouse, alert and cautious, breathing lightly. The tiny moth who flew low skimming the dinner table last night, resting near my glass.
Yesterday, weary, struggling with tired limbs through air heavy as sand, I thought, “is this what it's for? Doing? Accumulating? Busyness? Training our children to repeat the pattern?” It can't be. So what is it for then? To help. To laugh. To love. To really see. Mary Oliver, poet, says our only job is to pay attention. Paying attention I see my conditioning. It's woven strongly. A hood over my eyes. I lift the edges, pick at the weaving. “Our way of looking at things” can change.