It’s another beautiful morning here in Central Florida. And, a great day to explain why there have been no new articles since March.
The answer is that I’ve been on a spiritual retreat since the beginning of July. Took off, quit my job, found a cave — the whole nine yards!
It seems I met this Zen Master. Would you like to hear about it? Of course you would.
The tricky thing about Zen Master’s is that you can’t always identify them as such. My first guess on this guy was that he was an elderly homeless wino. But Zen Masters often go about in disguise and do not reveal themselves. Sometimes you have figure it out. He definitely fooled me at first. He wasn’t Asian. His demeanor was not serene. He was slightly incoherent and he didn’t smell very nice.
How did I figure it out?
During our brief conversation, he gave me a koan. Just in case you didn’t know, a koan is a very special question which many Zen Masters present to their students as a focal point for their meditation practice. The most familiar one to the general public would be “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” What’s the answer. Can’t tell you. I never worked with that one, and even if I did, I still wouldn’t be able to. The answer is not really an answer, at least not the kind we’re used to. It’s a change in mind set which allows the student to proceed to the next step towards eventual spiritual enlightenment.
He didn’t ask me about the ‘clapping’. Instead he asked me a question which at first I did not recognize as a koan. He asked, “If your so damn smart, why ain’t you rich?” Naturally since I did not recognize the man as a Zen Master, and since the question is a common put-down in our culture, I did not realize immediately that It was a koan. To make a long story short, I came to grasp the truth of the situation, because the question disturbed me. I couldn’t sleep. I experienced appetite loss. I became increasingly irritable and despondent. I would have to resolve this.
I won’t go into any detail about my retreat — the months of privation sustaining myself mostly on spiders I caught in the cave. No, that’s for my novel, or, perhaps my diet book. However, I will share two very valuable insights which came to me as a result.
1.) Being “smart” is just another label which is given to us — usually when we are young and impressionable. We either accept the label or we don’t. True, it’s not as bad as being labeled “dumb”, but it can still prove to be quite a burden. A label creates an expectation which we carry with us everywhere we go. Often we expend great energy to validate this label.
Let me give you an example. Have you ever met someone who seemed like he was created for no other reason than to prove to you that he was the brightest person in the world? Did you like hanging out with him? Do you think that this person truly enjoys being with other people? Does anyone ever ask him why he’s not rich?
2.) What idiot equates being “rich” with having money. We’re “rich” when we come to appreciate how much we really do have — right here, right now.
So what’s my point?
When we we practice meditation, we learn to accept our experience — our bodily sensations, our breathing, our surroundings as new and unique experiences without judging or evaluating. Ideally we learn to apply this to to everyday life. When we meet new people, we do not pre-judge them as individuals or in terms of what they have to contribute to us.
Most of you reading this realize that I don’t really think the little old wino was a Zen Master (I hope!), or, that I’ve really been living in a cave. It’s a miserable excuse anyway. I could have brought my lap-top with me. The point is that everyone we meet has the potential to contribute something to us — something we should consider, regardless of that person’s station in life or demeanor. Don’t miss out on the secret “Zen Masters” in your life.