Tag Archives: zen

Expectations

Expectations can be problematic.  Because of the challenges inherent in expectations, there are those who label them as “bad” or “undesirable” and suggest that, as such, they should be jettisoned in their entirety.  The fact is that expectations (in their purest expression) are neutral and have have no ethical component or character, one way or the other.  The difficulty with expectations comes when we are attached to the way in which these expectations must be realized or fulfilled.  “Any deviation from the way I expect things to be is painful and unacceptable.”  Indeed, this perspective truly is fraught with peril.  Another point of impingement is when we impose our expectations on others without their knowledge or consent.  This, too, is a sticky wicket.

A meritorious and efficacious expression of expectations is to consider them to be not unlike routes.  Think of it this way: you have a destination in mind.  You have a good idea of where this destination is in relation to your current position and, in order to move toward this destination, you plot a course that will take you there.  This course may be the most direct, it may be the most scenic, it may be the most leisurely or any of a number of possible permutations.  This course is your expectations.  The problem arises when it is thought that there is only one “right” way for the route to be followed, only one way to reach your destination.  If there is flexibility in your expectations (your course), then you have options and are not attached to outcomes.  Flexibility leads to discovery.

There is usually more than one way.  Expect it…

©Billy Red Horse

A Matter Of Convenience

I grew up in a time and place when telephones were quite common.  TELEPHONES, not cell phones and certainly not smart phones.  The telephones I speak of were dependable and utilitarian.  In the 1960s of my youth, almost every house had a telephone, ONE telephone, that is, a single phone for the entire household.  This telephone had a rotary dialer (anyone under the age of 35 will likely need to Google the term) and a handset that was permanently attached to the base of the phone by a thick and curly cord, a base that was itself permanently tethered by wire to a wall or baseboard, lacking even the more “modern” feature of being wired with 4-prong phone jack which could allow a phone to be unplugged from a wall outlet in one room and moved to another room.  There were no answering machines, either.  If you missed a call, well, tough.  They’d just have to call back if it was that important.  And this was enough.

Now our new wireless handsets put us at the beck and call (pun intended) of, potentially, the entire world.  How many times have you been engaged in a face-to-face conversation with someone, only to have their cell phone ring and interrupt?  “I’m sorry but I really need to take this call.  It’ll only take a minute.”  Or the times that a serenade of cute/vile/witty/obnoxious/ad infinitum notifications announce the arrival of a text or an email or a social media status update?  How invasive.  How rude.  And how unnecessary.

I will admit with no hesitation that my own smart phone is customarily within easy reach (though almost never on my person) in a location where I can quickly retrieve it should I need it.  And, as often as not, the phone is on airplane mode, whether day or night.  Therein lies the point of this entire dispatch – my phone is for MY convenience, not for the immediate access to me by anyone else with the technology required to do so.  The instantaneous incursion of the rest of the world into my space is something I no longer tolerate or allow.  “But what happens if you miss something important?” people will ask.  My very comfortable response is a smile and a gentle reminder that, if it’s that important they’ll leave a voice mail or call back.  It is the artificial urgency technology permits that engenders so much stress in our bodies and our minds.  FOMO – fear of missing out – is a menace that is both insidious and destructive.  This is a stress that is completely within my power to reduce greatly if not eliminate entirely.  All that is required is the flip of a virtual switch.

Lest there be any confusion as to my intentions and ultimate goals, I am not a Luddite.  I don’t think technology is inherently dangerous or a threat to all that is good and right with the world.  It is my aim, however, to not be swayed by the priorities or narratives of a culture that does not have my best interests at heart.  To put it bluntly, my phone is for my convenience and no one else.

Those old telephones (with their features as well as their limitations) were a convenience that served me well for decades.  Using new tech in an old way serves me quite well now.  It is, for me, enough.

©Billy Red Horse

Zen Is

Lurk about any establishment where Zen is rumored to occur and you’re likely find a bunch of uncommonly quiet (and, usually, very pleasant) folk struggling diligently with everything from reducing their levels of daily stress to the admittedly ambitious search for universal personal enlightenment.  For a spiritual discipline that is perceived to be, at its very core, a minimalist endeavor, Zen is possessed of quite a number of ways and means to pursue the practitioner’s goals, whatever those might be.

Koans, sutra studies, techniques and approaches are all valuable and have their place in a vibrant Zen practice.  That being said, each of these systemic cogs is, regardless of how much importance the zensu might choose to attribute to them individually or as a constituent, very often something our practice could just as easily do without.  All you really “need” is yourself and a place to sit quietly and do nothing.  Fancy zafu and zabuton cushions are all the rage (and quite nice), but a simple folded blanket will do in a pinch to support one’s backside during seated meditation.  For that matter, a piece of ground to sit on and a tree to lean against will often yield more results if the practitioner is willing to focus on the practice rather than divertissements.   Can you still your mind?  Will you still your mind?

Through the years I have often encountered those I classify as “Runner’s World” Zen students.  Who are they?  Think of the runner that has the latest in high-tech foot wear, a drawer full of moisture-wicking attire, a pair of $180 Julbo Ultra sunglasses with photochromic lens, a digital heart monitor and, of course, a subscription to Runner’s World magazine.  The problem, though, is that  they never run.  Forget the bells and whistles – just run.  Or, in our case, just sit.

Zen asks nothing of us but our focus and our intent.  Zen is greater than the sum of its parts.  Walk through the woods.  Listen to the song of a bird.  Sit quietly.  Do nothing.  Don’t fret that you can’t remember the second of the Four Noble Truths.  They’re written down.  You can read the Noble Truths anytime your heart desires.  What do you mean you can’t focus because your mind is too scattered?  Let it be scattered!  Sit anyway.  Or stand.  Or recline.  Or chase your tail.  Sooner or later you will tire and maybe then you will focus on the moment.  Zen is.

©Billy Red Horse