The other day, my four-year-old daughter came up to me with a handful of dandelions and said, "Daddy, look at all of the pretty flowers I picked."
The first thing that came to mind was: Those aren't flowers; they're weeds. The words almost slipped out of my mouth before I stopped myself.
I could just imagine my daughter in therapy twenty years from now.
"Then what did he say?" her therapist asks.
She fights back tears. "He said...he said, 'Those are weeds!" And then begins sobbing.
I have enough things on my conscience already, I don't need to add that to the list.
So instead I just congratulated her on her floral acumen and off she went exploring the rest of the back yard.
That's when it hit me: the biggest difference between her experience of the dandelions and mine is that I superimposed my dualistic grid onto them, whereas she was just open to the moment. I automatically saw dandelions as a weed that invades my backyard; she, on the other hand, just saw a pretty yellow flower.
Good, bad, pretty, ugly, useful, useless, these are mental constructions that we project onto the world. I couldn't appreciate the dandelion the way my daughter did because to me it was a weed, and weeds are a pain in the ass, plain and simple.
I'm not trying to romanticize childhood as some Edenic state, but there was a simplicity in my daughter's experience that cut away some layers of my mental grime. She hasn't yet learned how to differentiate ugly from beautiful, or a flower from a weed. That comes with time.
Zen practice often feels like de-conditioning. I'm trying to unlearn my dualistic mental habits. For instance, there was a moment, around 1 AM as Hurricane Irene was raging outside my window and water was finding its way into my basement, that I asked myself: Is this really bad? How much of this am I creating?
It turned into a kind of koan. When I opened myself to the moment, I could see how empty the events were. Why should water outside my home be fine but water inside be terrible? I was the author of my own suffering--all of it.
It was more categorical thinking, just like with my daughter and her dandelions. I had created good and bad then fooled myself into thinking they had a substantial existence. The Third Ancestor said, "The Great Way is very simple. Just avoid picking and choosing." Indeed.
My daughter did it. She inspires me to see with the wonder of a child where dualities have not yet intruded. Just a flower, just this moment, just "Daddy, look at all of the pretty flowers I picked."
Just, "Wow, they are beautiful." And really meaning it.
Photo borrowed from Creative Commons flickr user: tobym.