Thursday, December 19, 2013

Small steps.

Often times I’ve found myself faced with seeming insurmountable challenges and felt as if I needed to swallow the entire ocean in a single gulp. The only result of that approach was fear, inaction and coughing up the imagined impossibility. But after failing, I came to my senses and remembered an ancient bit of wisdom offered by the Chinese sage Lao Tzu roughly 2,600 hence. “Do the difficult things while they are easy and do the great things while they are small. A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.” The words of Lao Tzu are as useful today as they were a long time ago.

A short time ago a friend sent me a link to words of wisdom offered by the oldest living person. He just happens to be a Zen man and offered similar thoughts concerning a healthy life. They are worth your time reading. I confess to have a problem with one of his tips: to have no choices but rather accept everything as it comes. Like everything, the tip has two sides. One side is the peace that comes with feeling the smooth caress of the winds of change on your face in the coolness of the morning breeze. The other side is to get out of the hurricanes of life before devastation occurs. Those are the two sides spoken of by Lao Tzu in the first sentence of above quote.

Knowing when to stay and when to leave takes art and experience and both this ancient sage and the world’s oldest man agree, as I do, that breaking down giant challenges into small pieces makes for manageable tasks. Importantly is that first assessment of staying or moving. To inform that assessment we can turn, not to an ancient sage, but rather to Mark Cane, the contemporary American climate scientist who advises, “The first step toward success is taken when you refuse to be a captive of the environment in which you first find yourself.”

Regardless, there is always the first, small step or sip of water. Picking and choosing, as well as the wisdom of recognizing our own self-imposed captivity are seeming contradictions but that is the true nature of Zen: to hold no fixed perspectives but rather use expedient means—upaya-kausalya, measured and dictated by unfolding and unanticipated circumstances. How very different such advice is from the embedded and rigid ideologies of today.
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