The Proper Uniform

My good friend Blake McLemore (a gifted bodyworker in his own right), included this in his most recent newsletter.  It’s a poem by the irreverent Buddhist poet Ram Tzu and one of my favorites.  It’s so good that I am stealing it and putting it in the Blue Lotus newsletter as well.  As they say, “steal often and steal from the best”!

You clever ones

Go looking

For a Master

In a cave

In the Himalayas

Or in the forests

Of Thailand.

If you’re less clever

You’ll look for him

Somewhere comfortable

Like Ashland, Sedona,

Santa Fe or Santa Cruz.

Wouldn’t you be surprised

To learn that

All this time

He was sitting behind a desk

In your bank?

Ram Tzu knows this:

You require your sages

To be in proper uniform.

There’s a game (I like to call these sorts of things games because it takes the intensity out of them and adds an element of challenge and fun that I find enticing) that I learned from Jack Kornfield in “A Path with Heart” where he talks about imagining that every person you meet is an enlightened being sent to teach you the lesson you need to learn at that moment.  We have so much to learn from everyone we meet, including, and maybe especially, from the person sitting behind the desk at the bank.  Often the things we have to learn are not about them but about ourselves and our reactions to them.  If we are honest, we will notice that many people we meet or engage with bring up an emotion, some sort of feeling, some sort of pull towards or push away.  Though some may evoke a neutral feeling, often we either like them, don’t like them, or we are not trusting of them.  We may think they are amazing and better than us or we may think that they are ignorant and less than us and on and on and on.  If we really examine our own judgments and prejudices as they arise moment by moment, we’ll see them for what they are and they won’t control us as strongly as if we are unaware of them, don’t question them, or have some sort of idealistic notion that we are beyond it.  If we develop the habit of looking inward and observing our reactions, we will be able to be in relationship with people who may have previously irritated us or made us feel inadequate or superior to them.  We will have a better chance of seeing the truth of who they are, just another person with fears, opinions,  anger, and insecurity, hopes, wishes, dreams who is doing the best they can to get by. 

I remember a long time ago I was talking to my friend Gabriel Halpern.  I was working the desk at the Yoga Circle and he had a private client coming in to see him.  He was a somewhat famous person.  I said to Gabriel, “Wow, that’s exciting that this famous person is coming to the studio to study with you.” (or something to that effect).  He brushed off the comment and said matter of factly, “No big deal.  He’s just another guy with tight hamstrings.” (or something to that effect).  We’re all in this boat together and in the end, we are all challenged in our own way no matter how famous or obscure we are.  As they say in Thailand, “same same, but different”!  

I’ve lately been doing some self-study and learning more about the eight-fold path, the Buddha’s primary teaching.  Thich Nhat Hahn, a well known Buddhist monk, lays out four practices related to “right thinking” which is the second step of said path.  He says the first thing to do is write out on a piece of paper somewhere you can see it that says, “ARE YOU SURE?”  He gives this example.  If you see a rope on a trail and think it is a snake, fear will probably follow.  The more erroneous your perception the more incorrect your thinking (and the action / reaction following) will be.  Our perceptions of others and situations are usually based on many misunderstandings and we see many ropes in front of us that we think are snakes.  Rarely do we know the whole story of someone or of a situation.  In fact, the more we get to know someone, learn about their story, their life, their history, the more likely that we will soften to them and recognize the complexity of the human experience and reactions to our experiences.  We will see that the simplistic notions (perceptions) and the story that we have created around that person are almost always wrong if not greatly exaggerated.  If we ask ourselves, AM I SURE? more often, we might find ourselves becoming a little less self-righteous about other people and their choices.  Whether it be someone we know well, someone we don’t know so well, or someone who we know about through the media, the more we practice asking the question, AM I SURE?, the less we will judge others, because we will realize, if we are honest with ourselves, that we are not sure at all.   The space that’s created by doing this as often as we can will feel very spacious and freeing as the tight opinionated mind begins to soften and let go.  When this happens it opens space for the love to flow in.  As Leonard Cohen said, “there’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in”. 

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