This morning I started reading Zen is Right Here, which is compilation of short teaching stories and anecdotes of Shunryu Suzuki, who’s often called Suzuki Roshi. It’s a great read so far and I’m very much enjoying it – I also especially appreciate how short the stories and anecdotes are, as I wasn’t looking to launch into a long and heavily involved book.
From the book:
A student asked Suzuki Roshi why the Japanese make their teacups so thin and delicate that they break easily.
“It’s not that they’re too delicate,” he answered, “but that you don’t know how to handle them. You must adjust yourself to the environment and not vice versa.”
– Page 64
For the past few years I’ve been replacing the idea of New Year’s resolutions, which I’ve never cared for, with the development of new mindfulness exercises. I’m currently working with a number of new mindfulness practices to incorporate into my daily and weekly routine, which started at the beginning of the year. It’s worth mentioning, however, that typically I wouldn’t encourage the cultivation of so many new practices all at once, unless a practitioner has invested time in building a strong, diligent foundation in mindfulness, as trying to take on too much too fast is an easy undertaking, and an easy undoing of our stability.
My new practices include:
– Saying a short verse to myself upon waking up each morning
– Uni-tasking while brushing my teeth (verses multi-tasking)
– Saying a personalized closing verse to myself after breakfast each morning
– Jotting down observations I make in a small notebook when I’m in my car at red lights, or in other such instances where I’m stopped and waiting (at the bank, for instance)
– Mindful Morning Saturdays, where I devote the hours of 5:00-8:00am as a concentrated time to practice mindfulness (I read passages in our chanting book, do sitting meditation and three touchings of the earth, practice the 16 Qi Gong stick exercise routine, practice mindful eating of my breakfast, and watch a portion of a Dharma talk video online)
– Paying special attention to my preferences: what they are, how they show up in my life, looking deeply into whether they are helpful or harmful
“All of you are perfect just as you are and you could use a little improvement.” –
(1905 – 1971)
I’m pretty sure I’ve shared this quote before on my blog but the way I figure it, when it comes to deep and important teachings, you can’t really hear them enough. In my experience understanding teachings is a long process. And the more “simple” the teaching appears the more complex the understanding process gets. It is quite easy to say to ourselves, “Yeah, yeah, that makes sense, I get it, and I totally do that already,” when really we have very little concept of a certain teaching. Just because we hear something and absorb it on an intellectual level does not necessarily mean we absorb it on an emotional level and know how to actually put it into practice in our everyday lives.
The above quote by Suzuki-roshi is one of my favorites. It speaks to the heart of our human condition and to the root of our struggle. For better AND for worse our collective society is very dualistic in nature. What this means is that we function in an EITHER/OR manner. For instance: people are either good OR bad, we feel either happy OR sad, life is either black OR white, decisions made are either wrong OR right. We can get terribly confused when it comes to teachings on non-duality, which involves the practice of seeing things as part of BOTH sides, not just one or the other.
What Suzuki-roshi is encouraging us to practice is seeing that in this very moment, with this very breath, we are all both perfect AND in need of improvement. When we get caught in duality in regards to this teaching we can become very off balance and cause a lot of distress for ourselves and others. If we only focus on the first part of seeing that we’re perfect we can become very self-absorbed, callous, and disconnected from the effects we have on others. Our ego becomes inflated, we form shallow relationships, and we are unable to grow. And if we only focus on the second part of seeing that we need improvement we can become very self-conscious, emotionally over sensitive, and unable to socially engage and interact with others. Our sense of self is deflated to the point of self-pity, loathing, depression, and worthlessness. In both instances we will be unable to grow and transform.
To begin to understand this teaching we need to practice seeing that both parts of us exist at the very same time. We are perfect just as we are AND we are all in need of a little improvement. Practicing with both sides allows our ego to not become overly inflated while also not beating up on ourselves for the parts of us we wish were different or better.
What a completely beautiful, complex, confusing, and enthralling opportunity it is to be human eh?
“All of you are perfect just as you are and you could use a little improvement.”
– Shunryu Suzuki-roshi (1905 – 1971)