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Lions Roar : May 2007
SHAMBHALA SUN MAY 2007 46 If you can be at rest with the fact that you will do your utmost under all circumstances, what else is there but peace? A lot of people, though, feel that no matter how hard they try, they are not going to be happier. They feel they cannot overcome their problems. That’s because they believe in trying rather than in doing. How do you mean? If you just try to do something, you’re not actually accomplish- ing anything. But if you resolve to do it, you accept that it is there for you to do and that you’re perfectly capable of whatever it is. And of course there’s no point in trying to do something you’re incapable of. Then you use every conceivable atom, sinew, and instinct available to move whatever it is you’re trying to move. There’s a world of difference between that and simply trying to do something. That is basically how I work. I think if I had started out simply with the idea that I was going to just try to make the life that I have made for myself—and the work that I have made for my- self, and for my community and the world—it’s very possible that I would not have accomplished very much. Instead, I simply set out to do it. And to do it incrementally, so that I could do just the amount that I was able to do each day. It reminds me of what Ernest Hemingway used to tell people when they asked him how it is possible to write a novel. He would tell them that it’s a matter of “across the river and into the trees.” You resolve to get to the river, which is like the end of a chapter, and then, maybe in your dreams, you cross the river at night. Then, the next day, it’s on into the trees. You do it in stages, rather than saying, “I’m going to just try to write the whole thing.” You simply do what you can do today, and that’s fine. Is perfection one of the things we have to let go of to live like that? But everything is already per- fect. And if you can accept that everything is already perfect, the imperfection is a part of the perfection. What’s to worry about? [Laughs] So often we think if we can’t do it perfectly, it’s not worth doing. That’s a terrible mindset! I look at my cat. My cat lived a very rough life before she arrived in my home. She has one tooth that’s broken and another that’s kind of long on the other side. She’s snaggle-toothed. A stranger might look at her and say, “Oh, she has imperfect teeth.” But I look at her and see the absolute perfection—the charming perfection—of her imperfec- tion. It gives me so much information about the kind of life she has had, and the kind of soul she has probably fashioned. In your book you stress both yoga and meditation as essential prac- tices for people living today. Do you think of yoga and meditation as complementary practices? Oh, yes, very much so. I’ve recently started doing a type of yoga that brings both of them together. Each pose is held for five min- utes, which leaves you plenty of space and time to consider the pose, what it means to your peace of spirit, and to just breathe in, breathe out, in the way Thich Nhat Hanh talks about. What part does yoga play in your life? It is relaxation from stress. Yoga allows us to be calm and more present and not be physically overwhelmed by the calamities that surround us and the messages of disaster we’re constant- ly exposed to. In one of the talks excerpted in the book, I was speaking to a yoga group and telling them about how I learned of all these horrible abuses on Native American reservations and boarding schools, and how that connected to my own Native American ancestry. I told them it was so overwhelming that all I could do, really, was yoga. What would you say meditation means for you? Many things. In the early days, I almost always disappeared in meditation and found it just delightful. Now, sometimes I can disappear, but I have reached a place, I think, where the medita- tion often happens spontaneously. At times that means a lot of attentiveness to something, and letting it fully develop, and then having real insight into it. On the other hand, meditation could arise as a calming, spacious feeling of connection with every- thing, dissolving into the all. Are there other Buddhist practices you do? I am so grateful to Pema Chödrön for the gift of the practice of tonglen: taking in the bad and sending out the good. She has managed to absorb and preserve and present these ancient teachings in a form that is so current. I find tonglen one of the most important practices we could receive in this time. It’s al- ways challenging and deeply rewarding. You meditate, you read Pema Chödrön and Thich Nhat Hanh, you have praised the work of Jack Kornfield, you go on retreats, and yet you say in the book that you’re not a Buddhist. I’m not. The whole point of anything that is really, truly valu- able to your soul, and to your own growth, is not to attach to a teacher, but rather to find out what the real deal is in the world itself. You become your own guide. The teachings can help you, but really, we’re all here with the opportunity to experience the reality of hereness. We all have that. I trust that. With her cat, Surprise.