The Long & Short of It
Exercises in Mindfulness
While we tend to look at things in terms of good or bad, better or worse light or dark, the separation of one thing between another has its roots in the delusion of I.
“In the landscape of Spring there is neither better nor worse. The flowering branches grow both long or short.”
The above Zen saying was a favourite of Master Daiyu Myokyo, including the odd grammar of the last sentence. Commenting on this saying she would say that for a good flower arrangement one needs both long and short branches.
If we look at a tree we can see that they are all thus, and in fact if the branches were all the same length they would not be able to remain upright. Nature is like this, things occupy their niche and nature is full of niches that life seeks to occupy. It would appear that what nature ‘strives’ to do is to occupy a niche or place as successfully as possible. In my own garden the wild strawberry plants are extremely good at covering the ground whilst the jasmine grows up the trellis and walls and will even take over the washing line if not cut back! Meanwhile the cherry tree grows its canopy into the space above. Each has its own place and utilises it very well for what it wants to do.
In the world of ‘I’ things are different. I am not satisfied with my place there is a looking over my shoulder to look elsewhere to see if I am missing out because somehow I feel that there is something missing.
Back in the early 1990s, as a young man, I went with a group of friends to Prague. We were excited to be exploring a new city, recently opened up to the world post the fall of the iron curtain. It was Saturday night and we wanted to find out where the ‘party’ was? We had a guidebook which listed the best bars and cafes and we would go to one place, sit down for a minute then someone would say: ‘ I’m not keen on this place. Let’s find somewhere else.” So we would go on to the next one on the list. Even if we stayed for a drink afterwards someone would again suggest we move on and find another venue. There was this feeling in the group that whilst some places seemed fun and lively there was a better place out there somewhere! Finally, someone said “No, let’s stay here, I’m tired of constantly moving around.” So we did stay, and of course we had a perfectly convivial time where we were. In the end we didn’t need to move on at all, the party was right there!
Because ‘I’ am a delusion that creates the appearance that ‘I’ am separate from everything else, this gives rise to a constant nagging feeling of ‘something lacking’. It is this restlessness, this duhkha/dukkha, that makes ‘me’ unsettled. It does this through a continual judging of ‘I’ separating the world into better/worse, more/less desirable/undesirable etc. I then cling to one side and run away from the other not realising that this division is the state of my own heart.
Do we recognise this activity in our own hearts when it arises? Can we open up and say ‘yes’ to this restless energy? What happens when we just settle down turn inward to touch this unsettled energy and then turn outwards to give myself once more into what at this moment is? Do we recognise just how powerful this energy is a and how it is creating the world we experience every moment of every day?
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