Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Saying "Yes" to Life

As a high school teacher and parent, on a daily basis I hear the words "Wait," "Hold on," and "Wait a sec," more times than I care to count. Maybe it's the result of technology's ability to provide instant gratification.

Consider the psychological impact of having a virtual library of entertainment--film, games, music--at a young person's disposal, as well as the ability to pause practically every media. Gone are the days when your bathroom break or interrupting phone call actually cost you time from your beloved TV program. Now we can just press "pause" and the entire event freezes for our convenience. What tacit message does this send to a developing child's mind--the world should stop for me?

But I digress. I don't want to bemoan my pet peeves about modernity. Yet the refrain to "wait"--the expectation that the world will, and should, stop for our benefit--is a dangerous symptom of a broader condition.

When we practice Zen, we make a commitment to Now, to remaining grounded in what actually exists, as compared to what we want to, or think should, exist. This doesn't just pertain to a calm life on a cushion, but more inclusively, it applies to life in the thick of the maelstrom. Countless things compete for our attention, and it's our choice to decide what we are going to attend to.

When someone asks for our help or attention, do we accept the opportunity, deny them, or defer them? It's the last one, the "wait"--whose subtext usually is, "What I'm doing is more important than you or your needs"--that frustrates me so much. Life demands that we choose and act now, always now. We can't put life on hold the way that we can pause Netflix.

Unless you are connecting the last wire to destroy the Death Star, you probably can take a break to attend to what life is offering you at the present moment--an upset child, a dog that needs to go outside, a sad spouse. Admittedly, telling someone to wait can be necessary and even helpful (it helps children learn patience and reminds them that they are not the center of the universe).

So the overall question I pose is, "Why are we telling the world to wait?" Is it because we want the world to wait for our own needs or because waiting is the best option for all involved? There needn't be one single answer like, "I am a selfish person and need to be more caring." We respond with different motives at different times. Sometimes I am more generous and patient than at other times.

What guides me and my practice is, "Whose terms am I living on--my own or this mysterious thing called life's?" My practice is saying yes to life and all of its confusion, complexity, and paradoxes.

The Bodhisattva Vow is to save all sentient beings; that means staying grounded here and now, for it's only when we are awake and present that we can hope to help others. In fact, I might go so far as to say that being here now is saving all sentient beings--not just in terms of awareness, but as an active presence and participant in the world around you.

This is a question to explore as Zen practitioners and as human beings. How are we living our lives, moment after moment after moment?

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