“Even though you try to put people under control, it is impossible. You cannot do it. The best way to control people is to encourage them to be mischievous. Then they will be in control in a wider sense. To give your sheep or cow a large spacious meadow is the way to control him. So it is with people: first let them do what they want, and watch them. This is the best policy. To ignore them is not good. That is the worst policy. The second worst is trying to control them. The best one is to watch them, just to watch them, without trying to control them.” Shunryu Suzuki
“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?
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.
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.
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
“I know one thing: that I know nothing” ~Aristotle
I want to figure things out. I want to know what life is about. I want to know that I am doing the right thing. 6 years ago, I thought I had done just that. I had been reborn into a new understanding. I finally had all the answers. Well, I didn’t quite have all the answers, but I had the ones that mattered most, and I could use them to determine the right course of action in most any situation. About a year ago that all went out the window, when people started asking me questions I could not answer, and poking holes in my belief system. Some of these holes were small, and could be ignored (In fact that is exactly what I had been doing with them) but others were quite large, and things were beginning to fall apart.
Seeing my situation, I retreated. I pulled myself back to a point of not knowing. “I don’t know” was my new mantra, and I shouted it from the mountain tops.
Over the coming months, I studied many different religions and philosophies, just to gain some perspective. I read the Tao Te Ching, and I really liked what it had to say. I often came back to it, pondering the wisdom that it contained. “This is good stuff” I thought. “This will really help me live my life well,” “It’s so simple, this is why people have so many problems! If only they could follow this simple advice!” I didn’t realize it, but I was coming back to a very familiar place. A place of having it all figured out. It is a dangerous place to be, and it makes learning very difficult.
One day I was at work, and listening to the Tao Te Ching on YouTube. The last chapter was read, and they there was a brief commentary afterward. Included in this commentary was a quote from Shunryu Suzuki that made me realize I did not at all understand the philosophy that I was coming to rely on.
“There is a big misunderstanding about the idea of naturalness. Most people who come to us believe in some freedom or naturalness, but their understanding is what we call ‘Gyen ken gedo’ or heretical naturalness. A kind of let alone policy or sloppiness. 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
That “misunderstanding” as he calls it was exactly the way I had come to interpret the the message of the Tao. How embarrassing. I have been given, once again, an opportunity to learn this lesson.
“If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything, it is open to everything. In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few. ” ~ Shunryu Suzuki