Tuesday, August 17, 2010

"Such a Nice Guy..."

As a zen practitioner and chef in training, it's obligatory for me to soak up as much information about the Tenzo Kyokun (Instructions to the Cook*) by Dogen, as I can. I came across a commentary online that has this great quote by Ven. Anzan Hoshi Roshi:

Just because you are kind to someone once, the moment is entirely gone, you can't build anything the base of that... It is not sufficient to just have some image of being compassionate towards others, we must actually be so. So when that moment comes, that is what we must do. We can't say, “Well, I am usually like this and I will probably be quite compassionate then, too.” When the moment comes we have to make our choice and we have to do what we do. Once it is done, then there is the next thing to be done.

In other words, we can't rest on our laurels.

Just because we are normally one type of person (kind, helpful, good worker, etc.) doesn't mean we earn merit that we can expect to be able to cash in later to get away with things. The universe doesn't work like that, it doesn't remember in that way. People usually do, though, and I'm guilty of taking advantage of that more often than I'd like to admit.

I'm a pretty hard worker, and helpful, and yes, usually kind. I try to do things by the book at school and work when it comes to most things, and I (usually) get appreciated for that. But sometimes, I slack off with a couple ideas in my head: "Other people do it, and I work so much harder than them." or "I do my best at this and even go above and beyond what is expected, so I should be able to let this slide."

It's dangerous thinking, and while, in the moment, I see it as fair, I'm not playing by the rules that I think everyone should be held to. For one thing, it usually doesn't require me extra effort to do some of the exceptional things I do, I just do them because they're there. It's not truly giving 110% if you give 110% effort and take back 20-30%.

How does this fit with practice? Every moment is now. Full effort must be expended each moment, and if it's not, it's okay, I just can't lie to myself and say I am.

Sitting is a good example. Once I've committed to the cushion, I'm there. Slouching isn't going to make my legs hurt any less, and letting my mind drift is counterproductive. I have to keep my spine erect, shoulders back, chin down and head up. Only through this effort will the future be easier.

My aikido practice is another good example. If I don't actually push myself in training, I'm not getting anything done. Only through reaching actively when stretching, will my muscles stretch, making it easier next time. But, I can't relax when it's easier or my progress stops there and I might as well stop training.

Even when cooking, I can subsist on what I know, but it'll get boring. Pushing boundaries and opening up to new things keeps what I eat interesting.

Fortunately, practice helps make me more aware of all of this when I'm in the moment and that awareness fuels a second wind in my effort.

In personal situations, sometimes I feel like I don't deserve the way I'm being treated because of how well I usually act. I feel like I should have merit from my effort with practice that can be cashed in. I mean, if it weren't for that who knows how bad arguments would get. How could it be fair to try so hard to keep my cool when the other person is just letting me have it? (The last thing I'm going to do is point this fact out, too. I know I'm not perfect so there's no need to be self-righteous)

Sometimes it just gets to be too much and even my awareness of what's going on doesn't get me over that hump and the best I can do is not slide down the hill towards hurtful or passive aggressive behavior. I'm glad this is rare, because, while I understand this is normal human trait, I don't like it or myself when it does. I can only keep my nose to the grindstone and push on with my practice knowing that each moment is another chance to realize that ideal.

I know that every time I push through the difficulty, the rut of that habit gets deeper and just as the stretching to get flexible just to stretch some more benefits my body, exerting myself in other ways makes everything relatively easier and automatic down the road.

*I think it should be Instructions to the Chef but I'll save that for a post of its own.

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