Tuesday, June 25, 2013


I wrote what is below on a Buddhist bulletin board. It was a response to someone who was often quite self-critical. Just thought I would post it here as well:

Your post brought up shards of reaction and recollection ... just take it for what it's worth:
-- A lot of years ago, as a newspaper reporter, I won a New-England-wide first prize from United Press International for a five-part series I had written about alcoholism. I really had busted my ass writing it, but when my boss asked me if I wanted to go to the awards dinner, I said no-thank-you. He pressed me to go. I refused. The why's and wherefore's were many, but somewhere at the bottom of it all was a sense that 1. somehow I didn't deserve it and 2. basing success or self-esteem on what others thought was not a honey-trap I was willing to fall into.

-- My Zen teacher once told me that for the first 18 years of formal practice (zazen or seated meditation), his legs hurt like fury. I was grateful for the story because my legs continued to hurt at the time he told the tale (nine or ten years into my own practice) and the pain always made me feel that I was a phony Zen student somehow: If I were a real Zen student, my legs wouldn't hurt and I would be cool as a cucumber. Somehow I was devoted Zen student who couldn't, in reality, find his own ass with both hands; I was not at all as worthy as other students who never seemed to yowl and complain the way my mind did.

-- Once, as a kid, I was on a public ski slope and having quite a good time zooming here and there. I was a moderately good skier (meaning I didn't fall down every time I headed down the slope). But at one point, when I was climbing back up the hill for another run, an adult male I did not know called me over to him. "Look, kid," he said. "Any asshole can ski fast. It takes a good skier to ski slow." His words struck home partly because I was not used to hearing cuss words from well-dressed adults. The guy didn't explain or press the point. He just went about his own skiing. So ... I tried out what he had advised -- skiing slow, making the turns with attentive care, keeping the skis properly aligned ... all of it. And for the rest of the afternoon, I spent about as much time on my ass as I did skiing.

I sometimes think that half or more of the reason anyone fails is that they're so damned busy trying to "get it right" or trying "not to get it wrong," to "succeed" or "not to fail" ... and to receive accolades (whether within or without) for their efforts ... trying so hard with an effort that might better be put into to what they were actually doing ... that ... well, everything seems to come out sucky. One of the nice things about Buddhist practice is that determination takes us through what is ultimately nonsense ... And you don't even have to be a Buddhist to find it out:

How many things can any person do at one time? Multi-tasking is bullshit. Everyone does one thing at a time. Why? Because there's no other choice. Not only is there no other choice, but imagining that there could be both and observer and a doer simultaneously ... is more bullshit. Little by little, by doing and doing and doing some more, the dime begins to drop. It's not a question of finding some final, unequivocal bliss. "Buddha" means "awake" ... it doesn't mean some kind of special awake ... awake is awake. Bullshit is bullshit. Same for you, same for me.

Bit by bit, doing by doing, not-trying-to-escape after not-trying-to-escape everyone just does what they do. Sometimes they screw the pooch. Sometimes not. If you make a mistake, correct it. If you don't, correct that.

Take it easy. Ski slow. And don't worry about falling on your ass quite so much. All that worry detracts from getting back on your feet ... which is all any awake person does in the first place.


  1. Essentially good advice.

    Just one point to perhaps reconsider. Using the word "awake."

    “Meditation means the mind is turned back upon itself. The mind stops all the thought-waves and the world stops. Your consciousness expands.”

    - Swami Vivekananda

    "With practice, duality disappears and Samadhi, or the superconscious state, is reached. Do not become impatient, as this takes a long time."

    -- Swami Sivananda

    Awake? It's a word that's come to express laziness, impatience, self-delusion and all round shucking and jiving in many parts of the Zen world.

    Yes, be mindful, pay careful attention when the situation warrants, but do not think it means kensho / satori / samadhi.

  2. I think I prefer Adam's 'awake' ...kensho/satori/samadhi all sound a bit too posh for me.

  3. I've fallen on my ass often enough to find it comfortable.

  4. Passerby -- You may well be right ... as long as it is not somehow 'different.'