THE CYCLIST

On the day of the race, he waited with the others and felt that life was waiting in the hills. He couldn’t quite say why, but a blessing was about to happen. As the gun went off, he could hear the rush of all the racers breathing—like young horses in the morning.

He had trained for months, up and down the sloping hills, cutting off seconds by wearing less and leaning into curves. His legs were shanks of muscle. He often said, “It’s the closest thing to flying I know.”

On the second hill, the line thinned and he was near the front. They were slipping through the land like arcs of light riding through the veins of the world. By now, he was in the lead. As he swept toward the wetlands, he was gaining time, when a great blue heron took off right in front of him; its massive, timeless wings opening just in front of his handlebars.

Its shadow covered him and seemed to open something he’d been chasing. The others were pumping closer, but he just stopped and stood there, straddling his bike, staring at what the great blue had opened by cutting through the sky.

In years to come, others would ask, “What cost you the race?” Wherever he was, he’d always look south, and once in a while, he’d say, “I didn’t lose the race—I left it.”

Source | Mark Nepo, As Far As the Heart Can See: Stories to Illuminate the Soul
(Health Communications, Inc. 2011) pages 13-14

CONSIDER THIS

Tell the story of a time when your hard work had an unexpected outcome and what you learned from that experience.

Close your eyes, breathe slowly, and imagine something you are working hard to achieve. Notice without judgment which has more energy for you: the process or the goal.

Close your eyes again, breathe slowly, and imagine your hard work without the goal ahead of you or your reason why to do this behind you. Focus, if you can, only on the process you are in.

Close your eyes, breathe slowly, and picture a bird flying without knowing where it’s going. Or a cyclist riding with no destination.

Open your eyes and enter your day.

 

 

BECOME A LAKE

An aging master grew tired of his apprentice complaining, and so, one morning, sent him for some salt. When the apprentice returned, the master instructed the unhappy young man to put a handful of salt in a glass of water and then to drink it. “How does it taste?” the master asked.

“Bitter” spit the apprentice.

The master chuckled and then asked the young man to take the same handful of salt and put it in the lake. The two walked in silence to the nearby lake, and once the apprentice swirled his handful of salt in the water, the old man said, “Now drink from the lake.”

As the water dripped down the young man’s chin, the master asked, “How does it taste?” “Fresh,” remarked the apprentice. “Do you taste the salt?” asked the master. “No,” said the young man.

At this, the master sat beside this serious young man who so reminded him of himself and took his hands, offering, “The pain of life is pure salt; no more, no less. The amount of pain in life remains the same, exactly the same. But the amount of bitterness we taste depends on the container we put the pain in. So when you are in pain, the only thing you can do is to enlarge your sense of things …. stop being a glass. Become a lake.”

Source | A Hindu parable as told by
Mark Nepo in The Book of Awakening
(Conari Press, 2011) pages 17-18

CONSIDER THIS

“The more spacious and larger our fundamental nature, the more bearable the pains in living.” | Wayne Muller

 

TWO BAD BRICKS

After we purchased the land for our monastery in 1983 we were broke. We were in debt. There were no buildings on the land, not even a shed. Those first few weeks we slept not on beds but on old doors we had bought cheaply from the salvage yard; we raised them on bricks at each corner to lift them off the ground. (There were no mattresses, of course — we were forest monks.)

The abbot had the best door, the flat one. My door was ribbed with a sizeable hole in the center where the doorknob would have been. I joked that now I wouldn’t need to get out of bed to go to the toilet! The cold truth was, however, that the wind would come up through that hole. I didn’t sleep much those nights.

We were poor monks who needed buildings. We couldn’t afford to employ a builder — the materials were expensive enough. So I had to learn how to build: how to prepare the foundations, lay concrete and bricks, erect the roof, put in the plumbing — the whole lot. I had been a theoretical physicist and high-school teacher in lay life, not used to working with my hands. After a few years, I became quite skilled at building, even calling my crew the BBC (“Buddhist Building Company”). But when I started it was very difficult.

It may look easy to lay a brick: a dollop of mortar underneath, a little tap here, a little tap there. But when I began laying bricks, I’d tap one corner down to make it level and another corner would go up. So I’d tap that corner down then the brick would move out of line. After I’d nudged it back into line, the first corner would be too high again. Hey, you try it!

Being a monk, I had patience and as much time as I needed. I made sure every single brick was perfect, no matter how long it took. Eventually, I completed my first brick wall and stood back to admire it. It was only then that I noticed— oh no! — I’d missed two bricks. All the other bricks were nicely in line, but these two were inclined at an angle. They looked terrible. They spoiled the whole wall. They ruined it.

By then, the cement mortar was too hard for the bricks to be taken out, so I asked the abbot if I could knock the wall down and start over again — or, even better, perhaps blow it up. I’d made a mess of it and I was very embarrassed. The abbot said no, the wall had to stay.

When I showed our first visitors around our fledgling monastery, I always tried to avoid taking them past my brick wall. I hated anyone seeing it. Then one day, some three or four months after I finished it, I was walking with a visitor and he saw the wall.

“That’s a nice wall,” he casually remarked.

“Sir,” I replied in surprise, “have you left your glasses in your car? Are you visually impaired? Can’t you see those two bad bricks which spoil the whole wall?”

What he said next changed my whole view of that wall, of myself, and of many other aspects of life. He said, “Yes. I can see those two bad bricks. But I can see the 998 good bricks as well.”

I was stunned. For the first time in over three months, I could see other bricks in that wall apart from the two mistakes. Above, below, to the left and to the right of the bad bricks were good bricks, perfect bricks. Moreover, the perfect bricks were many, many more than the two bad bricks. Before, my eyes would focus exclusively on my two mistakes; I was blind to everything else. That was why I couldn’t bear looking at that wall, or having others see it. That was why I wanted to destroy it. Now that I could see the good bricks, the wall didn’t look so bad after all. It was, as the visitor had said, ‘a nice brick wall.’ It’s still there now, twenty years later, but I’ve forgotten exactly where those bad bricks are. I literally cannot see those mistakes any more.

Source | Ajahn Brahm,
Who Ordered This Truckload of Dung?
(Wisdom Publications, 2005) pages 3-6

CONSIDER THIS

We’ve all got our two bad bricks, but the perfect bricks in each one of us are much, much more than the mistakes. How much life goes wasted, how much potential goes unexplored and how many relationships are damaged or broken because of an unhealthy focus on the “two bad bricks”?

LEARNING TO BE SILENT

The pupils of the Tendai school used to study meditation before Zen entered Japan. Four of them who were intimate friends promised one another to observe seven days of silence.

On the first day all were silent. Their meditation had begun auspiciously, but when night came and the oil lamps were growing dim one of the pupils could not help exclaiming to a servant: “Fix those lamps.”

The second student was surprised to hear the first one talk. “We are not supposed to say a word,” he remarked.

“You two are stupid. Why did you talk?” asked the third.

“I am the only one who has not talked,” concluded the fourth.

Source | Paul Reps and Nyogen Senzaki, Zen Bones, Zen Flesh
(Tuttle Publishing, 1998) pages 83-84

CONSIDER THIS

To observe silence in a healthy and life-giving way one has to leave ego, pride and competition behind.

THE OTHER SIDE

A drunk crossed the street and accosted a pedestrian, asking him, “I shay, which ish the other shide of the shtreet?”

The pedestrian, somewhat nonplussed, replied, “That side, of course!”

The drunk said, “Shtrange. When I wash on that shide, they shaid it wash thish shide.”

Source | Desmond Tutu, God is Not a Christian: And Other Provocation
(Harper One, 2011) page 5.

CONSIDER THIS

Where the other side of the street is depends on where we are. Our perspective differs with our context, the things that have helped to form us. Change your point of view, shift your standpoint and the whole picture changes!

I DISTINCTLY REMEMBER FORGETTING IT

When the Master was a boy at school, a classmate treated him with persistent cruelty.

Now, older and contrite, he came to the monastery and was received with open arms.

One day he brought up the subject of his former cruelty, but the Master seemed not to recall it.

Said the visitor, “Don’t you remember?”

Said the Master, “I distinctly remember forgetting it!” so they both melted innocent laughter.

Source | Anthony de Mello SJ
Awakening: Conversations with the Masters
(Image, 2003) # 66

CONSIDER THIS

What do you distinctly remember forgetting, thus making space for deeper and more authentic connections and relationships?

GOD IN THE CRACKS

In a large temple north of Thailand’s ancient capital, Sukotai, there once stood an enormous and ancient clay Buddha. Over a period of five hundred years, violent storms, changes of government, and invading armies had come and gone, but the statue endured.

At one point, however, the monks who tended the temple noticed that the statue had begun to crack and would soon be in need of repair and repainting. After a stretch of particularly hot, dry weather, one of the cracks became so wide that a curious monk took his flashlight and peered inside. What shone back at him was a flash of brilliant gold! Inside this plain old statue, the temple residents discovered one of the largest and most luminous gold images of Buddha ever created in Southeast Asia. Now uncovered, the golden Buddha draws throngs of devoted pilgrims from all over Thailand.

The monks believe that this shining work of art had been covered in plaster and clay to protect it during times of conflict and unrest.

Source | Jack Kornfield, The Wise Heart
(Bantam; Reprint edition, 2009) pages 11-12

CONSIDER THIS

Retrain yourself to see beyond the cracks to the beauty that lies beneath. It is unbreakable, has no concept of age and doesn’t conform to other people’s standards of perfection. Retraining yourself to see the perfection of imperfection, the image of God in the cracks of life, is an essential part of the path towards human liberation.

Saint Paul describes this experience in 2 Corinthians 4:7 as “treasures in clay jars”.