(Follow this link to see the February 2019 Priory Newsletter where this was originally published.)
It is a pretty human thing to get distracted by what is down the road: won’t everything be better when I get that new … house, bike, partner, tool? What will happen when I die? Since I am a mess today, will I be able to to realize enlightenment? What will enlightenment be like? And on and on. It is not so much a problem that we are able to foresee events and needs in the future, and to take thoughtful action to deal with them, but it can be a problem when we spend time worrying and obsessing about things in the future to the exclusion of doing what is needful right now.
In Dogen’s chapter called “Uji” (“The Theory of Time” from Zen is Eternal Life by Rev. Master Jiyu-Kennett) he says:
“They travel fastest who are not there since arrival is hindered by arrival but quite definitely not hindered whilst on the journey: the journey is hindered by non-arrival but not hindered by arrival. It is by means of the will that we understand the will; it is by means of words that we understand words: by being hindered we understand hindrance and hindrance is hindered by hindrance; this too is existence, time, flow.”
It is a temptation to think that when conditions are just right, then we can practice; but really, that is just being distracted by what we think practice might be, or where it might lead. For myself, I feel immensely fortunate to have encountered Buddhism, to have encountered a system proven true by many generations, and established by a human being who was able to travel the whole path. I am probably a little simple minded by today’s standards, but, to me, this means that, having decided, through careful and thoughtful consideration, I want to go where the Buddha went, I can put down my worries about the future of the path. Since he taught, and the generations of teachers and practitioners since his time teach and attest, that the path of practice will lead where I want to go, I can put down my worries and just practice where I am right now.
If we want to buy a new bike, it can be helpful to do a little research about the type of bike we want and how much it will cost, but at some point we are going to have do the work to raise the money. The thing about Buddhism is that we don’t even have to decide we want the whole thing: we can just decide on a small aspect of practice and work toward that.
In each moment, we ask ourselves “how can I practice right now?” At the very least we can just try to be a little bit still right where we are. From this effort might come a little bit of patience, a little bit of compassion, a little bit of, you fill in the blank. This is very undramatic, but it is how the practice is done and how we, step by step, climb the mountain.