Just yesterday I watched an ant crossing a path, through the
tumbled pine needles she toiled.
And I thought: she will never live another life but this one.
And I thought: if she lives her life with all her strength
is she not wonderful and wise?
And I continued this up the miraculous pyramid of everything
until I came to myself.
Mary Oliver, Reckless Poem (extract)
One of the basic notions of Taoism is that the world in all its mystery and difficulty cannot be improved upon, only experienced.We are asked to believe that life in all its complexity and wonder is complete as is — ever changing and vital, but never perfectible. I’ve come to understand that this doesn’t prevent our being involved. On the contrary, accepting that the world can do quite fine without us allows us to put down the burden of being corrective heroes and simply concentrate on absorbing the journey of being alive.
Thus, our work is not to eliminate or re-create anything. Rather, like human fish, we are asked to experience meaning in the life that moves through the gill that is our heart. Ultimately, we are small living things awakened in the stream, not gods who carve out rivers.We cannot eliminate hunger, but we can feed each other. We cannot eliminate loneliness, but we can hold each other. We cannot eliminate pain, but we can live a life of compassion.
Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening
When Zen Master Joshu was a young monk he asked his teacher Nansen “What is the Way?” His teacher replied “Your ordinary mind is the way”. By “ordinary, Nansen meant the mind Joshu already had; he did not need to turn it, or himself, into something else. Unfortunately, these days when we hear the word ordinary, we are inclined to think that it means “average or typical” or even “mediocre”. We contrast ordinary with special and decide, given the choice, we would rather be special. But our practice wont make us special; it will keep bringing us back to who we are already.
Barry Magid, Ending the Pursuit of Happiness
There is great practical wisdom in understanding how the mind
creates boundaries of concern and interest, and how we can work
with these. Of course there are boundaries; there are other beings
on earth. But what counts is how those boundaries are maintained,
opened and closed.
When we consider otherness — the way beings
are different from us — we can feel either insecurity, ‘How does
she compare with me?’ or contempt, ‘You’re not as good as me’; or
fear and intimidation, ‘You’re better or stronger than me.’ Or, we
can feel adoration/attraction — ‘I want to be bonded to you.’
These immediate assumptions are called ‘conceit’: that is, we conceive
of people as worse, better or the same as us. The effect is that the
mind’s responsiveness gets stuck.
Caught in the conceit of self-view, the heart doesn’t extend its boundaries of appreciation and concern.
We take each other for granted as ‘my wife,’ ‘my boss,’ ‘my teacher’; and that fixing of them freezes our sensitivity. In that state, the heart easily tips over
into complaining about the other not being the way they ‘should
be’ (or rather the way I want them to be), and so the heart becomes
a breeding ground for ill-will.
Ajahn Sucitto, Parami: Ways to Cross Life’s Floods
What is happiness except the simple harmony between a person and the life they live?
Gratefulness is the key to a happy life that we hold in our hands, because if we are not grateful,
then no matter how much we have we will not be happy –
because we will always want to have something else or something more.
David Steindl-Rast, osb