A Warrior in Enemy Territory

May 15, 2012 § 3 Comments

They were careful

As someone crossing an iced-over stream.

Alert as a warrior in enemy territory.

Courteous as a guest.

Fluid as melting ice.

Shapable as a block of wood.

Receptive as a valley.

Clear as a glass of water.

Tao te Ching, Chap.15 (Stephen Mitchell translation)

Zen, the Tao, meditation, mindfulness.  Many people associate these ideas with passivity, even weakness.  That’s all fine, they say, if you want to live your life in a Buddhist monastery in Big Sur.  But if you want to live in the hectic, demanding real world, you’d better leave your meditation mat in the closet.

This is just all wrong.

Consider this.  Imagine the great athlete, someone who thrives in the intensely competitive world of professional sport.   Then imagine them at a moment of peak performance.  Maybe it’s Usain Bolt powering down the track, or Laird Hamilton carving into a swell, or Lionel Messi weaving through the defenders to attack the goal.  Each of them- in their moment- is precisely and only living in that moment.  Just running, just surfing, just dancing across the pitch.  Their movements are strong but fluid.  Amidst the fury that surrounds them, their minds are quiet and focused.  They are Zen.

The truth is that the practices and conceptions of Zen and the Tao are not so critical for one who lives in quiet solitude in the hills above the Pacific.  Such an existence is simply and naturally filled with peace.  These practices and conceptions are needed right here- in the world of ringing alarms, relentless demands, hectic pace- the world in which you and I live.

Like a warrior in enemy territory, we are surrounded by danger- thoughts that would sap our strength, defeat our will, and bring us low.  But if we can be fluid as melting ice and clear as a glass of water, if we can find and hold our mindfulness, we will be like the athlete in the moment of performance- strong, willful, and riding high.

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