treating the obvious


I’m not the sharpest finger pointing to the obvious.

A few months ago, my body and mind decided to separate leaving the Me-Who-Functions-More-Or-Less a bit adrift. Coming out of a restaurant where I was entertaining a visiting lecturer and friend, I tripped on the edge of the raised sidewalk and sprawled unceremoniously into the street. In my pre-occupation with having left my car unlocked (and catastrophic visions of his computer having been stolen from it), I failed to coordinate my foot with an edge I’ve step up to thousands of time – this being my favourite pizza place. Not only had I skinned both my knees but I also sprained the tendons holding my knee cap. Of course, seeking treatment was – and often is – out of the question because… well, because, just. because.

A few weeks later, taking my computer bag out of my car, I dropped it. Being my new MacBook and all, I tried to save it with an open-handed dive only to have the bag, book, and ‘puter trash my finger. Now you would think, “Oh, she’s a smart cookie. Perhaps with two injuries she’ll get the karmic bellow about taking responsibility.” Silly you.

I did eventually go to the urgent care clinic for my knee, only because I thought it was broken and there was a sesshin looming in my future. No, no breaks; just a badly sprained patellar tendon. In my defense, I figured that one hardly needs a knee on a regular basis; it’s more of a perform-on-demand kind of joint. Apparently not. I was also too chagrined by my neglect of life and limb that I didn’t ask about my finger. I still haven’t. However, one of our classmates in our weekly “Train your human to be a good dog owner” class came in wearing a splint. It look pretty.

So I got one.

It hurts. A lot. And it’s even harder to find words that don’t use the letters T, R, F, G, V, B for this post.

I sit humbled by the strand of sinew attached to this digital joint, as much for its attempts to communicate with me as for a nuanced dharma teaching on the Second Noble Truth.

We know stuff happens, poop pervades, and disgruntlement is dismally normal. That’s the big NT1 and not only is it True, it is Real. Real because we regularly encounter disruptions, trips, bashed fingers and toes, illness, pain, and loss. These are the sufferings of suffering; the regular stuff we try to avert from, striking a posture of insouciance. Then there is that suffering of change; what was well is now not so well. What was whole is now in parts – or at least stretched beyond its limits. And the suffering that arises out of our tendency to adopt various stances to our experience (conditioned suffering) leads us down pathways seeking a fix-it solution.

It’s helpful to see these three as interdependent and co-emerging. But what is important is not to diminish that “fix-it” tendency especially at the entry-level of suffering. Get the x-ray, get the splint, get the second opinion. That’s simply because when we begin by treating the obvious source of immediate suffering, we defuse the firing of the other two forms of suffering. When we take charge of what is literally and figuratively painfully evident, there is a slightly less possibility that we end up in mental pretzels about our worth or worthiness to be well and whole.

(OK, I’ll admit it. I’ve taken off the splint so I can type this faster. Because. Just. Because.) Now go and find the obvious thing in your life that needs immediate attention and care.

center’s punky

The oak tree in the north field came down in a windstorm.  It stands inverted in the ripening soya beans, the shredded base blaring a trumpet solo into the sky as the branches hold it up.  Systems break down.  It’s inevitable.  And yet we find ourselves surprised when our favourite selected systems shatter. We’re offended because that system, that process, that particular set of interconnections which was meant to service us, let us down.  Even in a farming community, which by definition embodies the never-ending process of births and deaths, neighbours expressed shock and dismay that the oak toppled.  Perhaps, it’s only oaks in other communities that are supposed to fall.  But NIMBY!

I’ve been starting to feel that way about many things around me.  Things that seem to keep toppling over.  Saving all beings, transforming inexhaustible delusions, penetrating innumerable dharma doors, embodying the Great Way.  Don’t even get me started on the Great Matter and dharma teachers of varied ilk.  

Yet, I say, “Oh, this is good – for things to topple over.”  A knee jerk response.  A good Zen Response.  A good Buddhist Response.  It parades my familiarity with buzz-word-dharma: impermanence, equanimity, emptiness, not knowing.  It even impresses some teachers – who immediately topple over from the weight of my willful ignorance, my refusal to see what’s really in front of me.

The man who cuts down trees looked at the oak and said, “Center’s punky.”

It was an impressive executive summary of the Four Noble Toppling Truths.

It works like this: though we experience Reality directly, we ignore it. Instead, we try to explain it or take hold of it through ideas, models, beliefs, and stories. But precisely because these things aren’t Reality, our explanations naturally never match actual experience. In the disjoint between Reality and our explanations of it, paradox and confusion naturally arise.
If it’s Truth we’re after, we’ll find that we cannot start with any assumptions or concepts whatsoever. Instead, we must approach the world with bare, naked attention, seeing it without any mental bias—without concepts, beliefs, preconceptions, presumptions, or expectations. 

Hagen, Steve (2009). Buddhism Is Not What You Think (pp. 4-5).
Harper Collins e-books. Kindle Edition.