Understanding Our Stories

“When you plant lettuce, if it does not grow well, you
don’t blame the lettuce. You look for reasons it is not
doing well. It may need fertilizer, or more water, or
less sun. You never blame the lettuce. Yet if we have
problems with our friends or family, we blame the other
person. But if we know how to take care of them, they will
grow well, like the lettuce. Blaming has no positive
effect at all, nor does trying to persuade using reason
and argument. That is my experience. No blame, no
reasoning, no argument, just understanding. If you
understand, and you show that you understand, you can
love, and the situation will change”

― Thích Nhất Hạnh

There are a lot of things about myself that I would like to change.  My eating habits, my organizational habits, my tendency to put things off, my fear of failure.  I have been going about the process with the idea that I just need more self control, or I just need more grit, or a commitment, or a magic word, or a rubber band around my wrist that I can snap every time I reach for a brownie.  And while these can be good things, they aren’t really working for me.  In fact, they never have.  Why then, would I continue to use methods that do not work?  Because I believe they work.  I have written them into my story.

From the moment we are born, we are writing a story, the story of our perception of reality.  This story covers every aspect of our lives, and answers questions such as “Can people be trusted?”  “Am I worth loving?”  “What is Truth?”  “What is Justice?” or “What will it take to make me happy?”  Most of the important questions are answered before we even know we are asking them.  Each of us has written a unique story, and none of them are perfect reflections of reality.

In the parable of The Blind Men and the Elephant, each man experiences a different part of the elephant, and each man comes away with a different idea of what the elephant is, and what it’s for.  Each man possesses the same amount of truth regarding the elephant, but what they have to gain from each other is perspective.  So it is with our stories.  None is any more or less true than the other.  We do not need to seek truth from others, we have it within ourselves, but what we do need to seek is perspective.  With understanding, and without judgement, there is much that we can learn from our fellow humans, about life, and about ourselves.

But other people are not the only ones who need our understanding.  We need to stop judging and blaming ourselves.  There is a reason for our behavior, and if our behavior needs to change, it is easier done with love and understanding than with any amount of self control.

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Get. Back. Up.

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“Fall down seven times, stand up eight.” ~Japanese Proverb

These words are a refuge to me, and they bring great joy each time I hear them.  Trying to be healthy, trying to be a good husband and father, trying to make a difference in this world, I fall.  I have fallen many more than seven times, but there is so much comfort in knowing all I need to do is get back up, and keep going.  No need to waste time fretting, or complaining, or wishing, I just need to know that I can learn from my mistakes, and press on.

As I was pondering this phrase yesterday, I found the numbers a bit odd.  If I fall seven times, I would only have to get up seven times, not eight, right?  Well, that is assuming that I started from standing.  But if my original position was on the ground, I would have to stand up first, before I even fell once.  We don’t come walking out of our mothers womb, but we begin in a position of helplessness, and remain that way until we are strong enough to pull ourselves up, and start taking those first steps.

It is the same with any other aspect of our lives.  We do not start out as masters, we do not start out on our feet.  Once we do stand up, we do not need to worry about falling, because we can’t fall any farther than to the ground, which was where we started, and we already know how to stand up.  Fall seven times, stand up eight.

Learning From Trees Part 1: Grow Like A Tree

“For a plant or stone to be natural is no problem, but for us there is some problem, indeed a big problem.  To be natural is something we must work on.”  ~Shunryu Suzuki

“Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.”  ~Hermann Hesse

What better place is there to learn about naturalness, than nature?  Over the past year, I have spent much time contemplating nature.  Watching, listening, observing, and meditating.  I have learned a lot, but I have to admit, I am a bit jealous of the birds, moss, and trees.  What makes it so easy for them to be natural?  They don’t even have to think about it!  To say that a tree is behaving naturally is redundant.  Of course it is natural, its a tree!  But what does a tree actually do?  And how can we learn from it?

Continued Growth

The first thing, and most obvious I suppose, is that a tree grows.  And it never stops growing, even when it is old.  In the same way, we can continue to grow and develop spiritually, emotionally, and intellectually, up to our dying day.  Not being content to stay where we are, but always deepening the roots of our understanding, and broadening the trunk of our wisdom.

Overcoming Obstacles

A tree never asks permission to grow, and as it tree grows, it can break through cement, or consume barbed wire.  Its strength lies in patience, slowness, and indifference.  A tree neither attacks obstacles, nor avoids them, but simply grows according to its nature, and if a sidewalk or a fence is destroyed in the process, so be it.

No Regrets

It is also interesting to note that while the most recent growth is nearest to the surface, and is the part of the tree that is alive, it is the growth from years past that becomes the heartwood, and holds the tree up.  It does not regret its past form, or failures from years ago, but builds on them, and uses them as a source of strength.

Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness.” ~Herman Hesse