On vacation with Betty’s family after 3 years of quarantining, we have lit in a most beautiful spot – the east coast of Kaua’i. Sitting here on the porch on the second morning, sipping coffee and listening to the waves, impossible not to be peaceful and relaxed.
We’re in the town of Kapa’a. The grounds outside our condo are beautiful, of course, but the layout of them began, for me, an idea of how differently Western culture thinks of life and happiness than does the Eastern culture. It started like this –
I was looking at the two trees together and imagining a golf hole up on that side hill, beyond the trees. I knew that most bad golfers would hit the tree on the right, simply by trying to miss it. I also knew that some golfers know the psychology of actually trying to hit the tree, thereby missing it almost every time.
Now to my mind, as a Western-thinking American, that would be a pretty cool concept to put into play in my non-existent golf game. But could I possibly use that theory, that idea of aiming for something in order to miss it, for some other, more useful purpose? How could that curious but useful concept make life better?
A logical question, right? For us Westerners, sure. But an Eastern thinker would stop us right there, telling us that trying to “make life better” is the exact opposite way to actually making life better. The Toaists especially tell us that to try to attain a high spiritual purpose will insure that we will never accomplish it, and that notion carries over to other forms of desire. Well damn! If that’s the case, then, once again, what can we do to make life better??
Again, the Eastern-thinkers will tell us, “No no, it’s not what you do in that case. It’s a matter of what you don’t do that will take you to your happiness. You cannot look for, and find happiness, but it can come to you.”
That made absolutely NO sense to me at first. How in hell can you get where you’re trying to go without doing something?? How can I possibly achieve the the quiet, restful, patient state of peace I’m looking for without actually doing something? Are these Orientals messing with me? Once again, their answer is, “It’s far more of what you don’t do that will lead you to your peace.”
Okay. I’m aware that we Westerners have tons of ideas about “what to do” and “how to do it.” Great, We’ve known that and passed it on for centuries now. You know the story of the Roman wagon tracks and our current train tracks being exactly the same width… we’ve passed it all on, whether it was practical or not. But what about these cockeyed Easterners and their theories? Turns out they developed them thousands of years ago and have passed them down, in the same original form. Hmm. Maybe they’re on to something, after all. Now that I think about it, many of them do seem a little more laid back than we are, a bit quieter, more perceptive. You don’t suppose some of their fishy theories actually work?!
I think it’s time I come out of my philosphical closet and admit that those darn Eastern spiritual thinkers were, and are, right. They have a reasonably short list of things not to do in everyday life that will change our lives, and insure happiness and peace of mind. Unfortunately for us, their short list goes against almost everything we Westerners have been brought up to believe and practice. For you real Christians, you might be surprised to know that much of Eastern spirituality is not that much different from yours. It’s the practice of the concepts that bring the desired results, and the philosophy behind the practice is the power. But as usual, the philosophy has no power without the practice.
I admit to having even sucked into this line of thinking back in ’94. My life back then was taking several sharp turns for the worse and I needed help… the kind of help I thought would have to come from an external source. While doing meditation seminars for the Center For Nursing Leadership In Georgia and Indiana, I was introduced to a small group of people who had attended a Buddhist teaching center in Atlanta, and suggested I attend one. I did, and there began the changes my life has taken in the last 28 years that have brought me to this place, this place where I can tell you that the Zen Masters of thousands if years ago got it right!
I am living proof that they got it right. I’m now a different, better person enjoying a different, better life. I’m still an American who makes daily mistakes that are usually driven by my cultural upbringing… they can be hard habits to break. When I stay mindful of the eightfold path now, life is so sweet. Life will always throw us curveballs, but knowing my hot buttons and keeping them quiet makes the journey even easier. I now see life itself as a thing, an element that we are in a relationship with. In truth, it’s the relationship we would most want to work, and to be easy. Well sure, but life, as the other entity in this relationship, can be, and often is difficult sometimes to the max. And wouldn’t you know, it’s the one relationship we really don’t want to walk away from. In that, most of us work our entire lives trying to make our peace with life, trying to make it easier, more enjoyable, even more understandable. Yeah. Good luck with that last one. The good news is that it isn’t necessary to understand life in order to enjoy it, it’s only necessary to find ourselves within it and learn to flow in its current.
No one ever said that attaining peace and happiness would be easy. It’s not, and the road to contentment is complicated by trying to live by Eastern teachings in today’s America. Ha! It’s a daily balancing act on the high wire of a working spirituality.
I know I know… none of this has anything to do with hitting a golf ball past that tree into a hole up in the far yard. Or does it? If we can learn to miss those trees with our shot, can we not also learn to dodge and render powerless most of the pitfalls that life continually throws our way? I think so, I think we can. All we have to do is try to hit that tree on the right…