Sunday, May 20, 2012
Today's Zen Toon: Learning to Suck (It Up)
I was in the middle of a moment of what felt like real frustration yesterday. You should know that I and yard work don't get along very well. Well, outdoor manual labor and myself have a very tenuous relationship, but yard work in particular is something that shortens my fuse, it seems. I'm not very thorough, and when I hit an impasse, I often think, "Hell, that's good enough" and leave a project half-done. If the devil is in the details, he and I are likely never going to cross paths while I have garden gloves on.
Yesterday, it was pulling up a buried tarp we'd laid down underneath the kids' now long gone swing set. The tarp was weighted down by layers of sand, soil, and straw, and I wanted it up as easily as it went down some ten years ago. Illogical, but there you have it - life should be easy, right?
Nah, not in the stark naked reality of things.
Here's the extra bit of special sauce in this glass of whine:
I was listening to an audiobook while I was working. It's called "Dharma Road" by Brian Haycock. The guy is a cab driver in Austin, TX, and he has written a book that turns the teachings of the Buddha into metaphorical experiences that relate to his journey on the road as a taxi driver. It's quite entertaining, and a great new perspective on the Eightfold Path (or as he calls it, The Eightfold Highway).
While I was cursing at the hardened soil, and the endless layers of muck that were causing me to have to alternate between rake, hoe, and spade in an unrelenting pattern, he was talking about complaining. About how easy it is to fall into thinking our lives are so hard. He was having a rough night - few riders, low fares, and shitty tips. But as he drove through a neighborhood, he saw homeless people, and reminded himself he had a cab to drive, a home to go to, and - even though he has to work 80 hours a week - the means to buy the next roast beef sub. Then he went to the next layer of appreciation: gratitude for being born in America, when he could've easily arrived on this earth in Darfur or Baghdad.
I got it. I knew it already, heard it a million times - "I once complained because I had no shoes until I met the man..." - yep. Nothing new, just simple and true.
It was about that time that I turned a corner on my work. I was able to pull a sizable amount of tarp out from beneath the bed of dirt and sand. Once it broke free, other parts freed up more easily. I still had hours of cleanup ahead of me, but my perspective changed. This wasn't so hard after all. Certainly not worth the energy it took to stifle curse words from neighbors and my 11 year old son playing nearby.
A few years ago, I tried an experiment. There was a book called "A Complaint Free World". It came w/ a little purple bracelet that you switched from wrist to wrist whenever you caught yourself complaining. The goal, of course, was to go a week, and eventually a month, without complaining and see how it affected your life and the lives of those around you. I did pretty well, but abandoned it when things got frustrating, much like I often do with yard work.
I would say that, even though most of us see ourselves as pretty positive folks, we can chalk up 20-30% or more of our daily conversation as complaining. Complaining about our circumstances, about the behavior and opinions of others, or about the world at large. Believe me, if you look around, there's plenty to bitch about. But it does us little good. It just feeds upon itself until we make ourselves and those within earshot pretty miserable.
The solution, of course, is two-fold: Bark less and wag more, as the dog loving bumper sticker says. Verbalize our complaints less often and show that much more gratitude when we do choose to speak. Buddhists call it "right speech". Americans call it "Suck it up". Either term is applicable. Life comes with its fair share of "unfair". How we handle our daily doses help determine who we are.
"I complained because I had no shoes, until I realized the ground beneath my feet felt pretty good. So then I shut up about it."
Apparently, the Dharma Road is filled with detours into pine straw, sand, and dirt. But if we have the patience to dig it out, the journey continues.