Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Man up a tree

Recently, I discovered this blog, in which there has been a lot recently about a zen koan about a man up a tree. The Dalai Grandma outlines the story like this:

The basic idea is, You are hanging from a tree by your mouth. You can't reach a branch with your hands or feet. Someone comes by and asks you to tell him about Zen. You have a dilemma: if you speak, you fall and die. If you don't, you are abandoning your responsibility to others. What do you do?
The man's dilemma spoke to me too, so I have been following the blog carefully. The Dalai Grandma's final post on the koan is here. The part that caught my attention was this in particular:

The thought came as an image while I was carefully steering through the parking lot at the health club, where people seemed likely today to get in wrecks. I visualized a man hanging from a tree, hanging by his mouth, remember, in his dilemma, and then I saw the grass just a few inches under him. Aha, I thought. The koan cleverly omits to say how high in the tree he is. So, no problem. Just let go and fall out of the dilemma. Land on the nice soft grass. Sometimes we make our dilemma so convoluted that this is the only way to handle it.

She also makes reference to a John Burroughs quote: leap and the net will appear.

In addition to the obvious, the leap of faith I talked about in a
previous post, this whole recurring theme has really made me think about how I tend to complicate everything, trying to make everything mean something. Sometimes I get so caught up in it all that it takes the mental equivalent of a slap in the face to wake me up.

Buddhist teacher
Pema Chodron talks about this in her book Start Where You Are.

...interruptions themselves - surprises, unexpected events, bolts out of the blue - can awaken us to the experience of both absolute and relative bodhichitta, to the open, spacious quality of our minds and the warmth of our hearts.

This is the slogan about surprises as gifts. These surprises can be pleasant or unpleasant; the main point is that they can stop our minds. You're walking along and a snowball hits you on the side of your head. It stops your mind. (p. 78)

The surprise that can wake you up can be something very small. For example, recently I was carrying on at length about something in my own mind when a friend said to me, "Look the situation is very simple" and proceeded to summarize my situation in a couple of sentences. His words stopped me like that snowball in the side of my head. At first, I was offended by the logic. No, my situation is not simple, I protested to myself. But the honest truth was that my situation was simple, I just didn't want to see it. Like in the Dalai Grandma's interpretation of the Man in the Tree koan, I could just let go of the branch and fall to the ground.

Sometimes we need friends who can wake us up like this. People who see the world in different terms and are able to shake you out of your habitual way of seeing. This week I am trying to see the world as simple and logical. To accept things as they are, and not to make things mean more than they do. I am also trying to find the patience to sit with my dilemmas, as one sits with a koan. And to embrace the surprises, even the unpleasant ones.

And to trust that the universe will give me what I need. Including, when I'm ready to leap, a net.


Bfly-Loli said...

mmmmm :)
There are many things I really like about this post...

btw, that is a good friend! Like you said, you gotta have some of those...

elle said...

I have read this entry every day since you posted it. I find myself up trees so often -- or, I suppose, get myself into them -- and frankly can't see the forest from there. I needed these reminders, and I am thankful for friends and family that give them to me. (Or blogs that just keep steady addresses so I can return again and again. Ha.)

dragonfly said...

I need to read this post every day too. Now, several days after I wrote it, I feel like I only just opened my mouth and let myself fall. Ironically, the man who asked me to tell him about zen is probably long gone. However, I will be better prepared to teach the next guy. ;-)

This is a good reminder of why we should cultivate relationships with those who are our opposites, not just those who are similar to us, so that they can help us to shift our perspectives.

I'm glad this was meaningful to you too.

elle said...

.... Just so long as you didn't fall on the next guy! ;-)

Cultivating relationships with those who are our opposites... yes. But, with reference to previous post, only tell them what they are ready to hear, and be ready to hear what they say.

dragonfly said...

I think that is mostly true, yes. But sometimes I think people make assumptions about what people are not ready to hear and hold back, when honesty would be a better policy. I am reworking an old half-post on satya and trying to get it up. Stay tuned!

For example, I recently got a dose of the truth from a coworker. Apparently, people have had an issue with my work but no one thought I would be able to take the criticism. In fact, I am very grateful. Sometimes someone else has to hold up the mirror in order for us to take a look at ourselves.