Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Paying it Forward.

Lets push the matter of surrendering to pay-offs a bit further. Surrendering is ordinarily seen as releasing from attachment. When we hold onto something and try to preserve it, we are inviting disappointment and suffering. Previously I shared my realization regarding pie. The key that unlocked that door for me was all about pay-offs—expecting a reward without realizing that the reward was “paid-forward.” I really like that idea—paying it forward—since it connotes a pure gift, given in advance without strings attached.

I didn’t say where this pay-off idea first corrupted my thinking but it actually began at home when I was a boy. My mother would say “If you don’t eat your dinner you’re not going to get any pie (dessert).” The message was clear: eating dessert had strings attached. Either I ate my dinner or else no pie. That early message came to dominate my life and without realizing it I began to arrange everything in the same fashion: investing for the future pay-off, like a carrot on a stick tied to the back of a dumb donkey. Every step I took toward that goal, the pay-off carrot moved away. What I never realized in the early years of my Zen life was that I was doing the same thing with my practice. The harder I pushed to get the prize of enlightenment the faster it moved away.

While I often think that I must be really dense to have not seen this pattern sooner, what I’ve come to appreciate is that it is endemic in human behavior. We all do the same thing but in different ways. We do it when we imagine what gifts to give at holiday time and think to our self, “should I spend that much money on them? Maybe they will spend less on my gift and then I’ll feel like an idiot.”An artist often does it when they plan their work. All artists wonder about acknowledgment (getting stroked or being rewarded with something more liquid like hard cash) and often times the conclusion to their wondering shapes their work. I have known artists who are so concerned about this issue that they try to figure out what the public will like and what they won’t and then attempt to create a salable product. We do it when we pay someone a compliment and they don’t acknowledge our kindness and we end up feeling short changed. It happens widely in business when we invest on the hopes of a future return. And a really bad form of this is when we modify our selves to please everyone and then get really angry and bitter when we discover that everyone else is happy but us. And then we start to get really ticked off because we feel taken advantage of.

In short, we all think “Pie in the sky, bye and bye.” It is sadly one significant way that we create suffering. We set ourselves up for misery by expecting future pay-offs. So what is a better way? How about stopping that behavior. We all need to learn to give gifts, with no strings attached. Give yourself just because it feels good. That feeling is the pay-off. Create works of unencumbered art because of the joy of genuine self-expression. Give that outrageous gift and stop wondering whether or not it will be acknowledged. Share the pure Dharma gladly, freely and broadly and stop worrying about whether anyone will get it or even acknowledge the contribution. It is not our jobs to be concerned about results and pay-offs. Our job is to share no-strings-attached gifts. To conduct our lives in that fashion is to pay-it forward and accept the joy of simply feeling good. A single act of kindness infuses the world with gladness. Living this way is about surrendering from pay-offs.

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