Monday, February 1, 2016
Boldly Going Nowhere
Remember the intro to the Star Trek series? Their mission was “to boldly go where no one has gone before.” Yesterday I pulled up behind a car at a stop light and laughed out loud at their bumper sticker – “boldly going nowhere.”
We always think we are or ought to be going somewhere, don’t we? We might say about a young, talented person, “Mark my words, that young person is going places!” Or we might bemoan our current position. “I am stuck here. I’m not getting anywhere.” Our language reflects a belief that staying where we are is not a good thing, that what we want is “just around the corner.”
In the Wizard of Oz, Dorothy sings about a place that she dreams of “over the rainbow.” But do you remember how the movie ends? When she clicks her heels together and repeats the magic words, “There’s no place like home,” she finds herself back on the farm and realizes that everything she really wanted had been there all along.
In tai chi class the other day, the teacher, who has a third degree black belt in kung fu, reflected that for years he sought to increase his martial arts skills through outer movement – learning more techniques, gaining strength, kicking faster, punching harder, jumping higher. Then he reached a point where the outer activity began to lessen while the inner activity increased. Now, he says, his most powerful martial arts practice is standing meditation.
The renowned Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron says that one of her favorite sayings is “Sit! Stay! Heal!” I get that. Well, first, I’m a dog person, so I think that’s funny. But I also get it because I’ve found in recent years that when I’m distressed or agitated, when what I most want to do is escape in some way, the best thing for me to do is sit down on my meditation cushion and just breathe.
A few days ago I was very upset about something someone had done. I was quickly hooked by the situation. I fed my anger with judgments, and rehearsed how I was going to let this person “have a piece of my mind.” Interesting saying, that. Why would I give someone some of my mind? Can I afford to lose any more of it? And if I just change the saying slightly, I am giving someone my peace of mind. Hmm...
With a harrumph and a snort I plopped down on my cushion and started to breathe into my belly. Grumble grumble breathe. Grumble grumble breathe. Gradually, I began to detach from the situation. And before long, I was, if not peaceful, at least calm. And I was able to wait until I could discern what an appropriate response might be, if any.
I’ve been fortunate enough in my life to go to many wonderful places, and to do many exciting things, but sometimes the wisest course is to go nowhere and do nothing. And that is indeed bold.
Without going outside, you may know the whole world
Without looking through the window, you may see the ways of heaven
The farther you go, the less you know
Thus the sage knows without traveling
He sees without looking
He succeeds without doing
~Tao Te Ching