Our friend this challenge

Dealing with any of our life’s difficulties is not a battle to be fought. Instead, we must learn how to make friends with our hardships and challenges. They are there to help us; they are natural opportunities for deeper understanding and transformation, bringing us more joy and peace as we learn to work with them

Thich Nhat Hanh

Empty your boat

Chuang Tzu tells about a man crossing a river when an empty skiff slams into his. The man does not become angry, as he would if there was a boatman in the other skiff.

So, says Chuang Tzu, “Empty your own boat as you cross the river of the world.”

In solitude, I can empty my boat. Can I do it when I’m in the company of other people? Maybe: Solitude does not necessarily mean living apart from others; rather, it means never living apart from one’s self. It is not about the absence of other people – it is about being fully present to ourselves, whether or not we are with others.

Parker J. Palmer, On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity, and Getting Old

An open field

By teaching “Do not judge”, the great teachers are saying that you cannot start seeing or understanding anything if you start with “no.” You have to start with a “yes” of basic acceptance, which means not too quickly labeling, analyzing, or categorizing things as in or out, good or bad, up or down. You have to leave the field open, a field in which God and grace can move.

Ego leads with “no” whereas soul leads with “yes.” The ego seems to strengthen itself by constriction, by being against things; and it feels loss or fear when it opens up. “No” always comes easier than “yes,” and a deep, conscious “yes” is the work of freedom and grace. The soul lives by expansion instead of constriction. Spiritual teachers want you to live by positive action, an open field, and studied understanding, and not by resistance, knee-jerk reactions, or defensiveness, and so they always say something like “Do not judge,” as judging is merely a control mechanism.

Richard Rohr,  The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics

I see…

A Japanese Zen story about responding to whatever happens in the present moment with acceptance, or about observing troubling emotions with kindness. Like all of these stories it functions on a symbolic level, challenging us to open up to new ways of living when faced with surprises and disruptive situations:

The Zen master Hakuin was praised by his neighbours in the village as one who lived a pure life. Then a beautiful girl in the village became pregnant. Her angry parents demanded to know who was the father. At first resistant to confess, the anxious girl finally pointed to Hakuin, whom everyone revered for his pure life. When the outraged parents confronted Hakuin with their daughter’s accusation, he simply replied “Is that so”

When the child was born, the parents brought it to the Hakuin, who now was viewed as a outcast by the whole village. They demanded that he take care of the child. It was now his responsibility.  He said simply “I see” and calmly accepted the child.

For many months he took very good care of the child until the girl could no longer withstand the lie she had told. She confessed that the real father was a young man in the village whom she had tried to protect. The parents immediately went to Hakuin to see if he would return the baby. With profuse apologies they explained what had happened. “Is that so” Hakuin said as he handed them the child. 

Hakuin Ekaku1686 – 1769, was one of the most influential figures in the history of Zen. 

 The Japanese, Sōdesu ka, translated normally as “Is that so” can also be rendered as “I see”