As usual, this week’s reading struck many as particularly relevant to their lives:
If you want to shrink something,
you must first allow it to expand.
If you want to get rid of something,
you must first allow it to flourish.
If you want to take something,
you must first allow it to be given.
This is called the subtle perception
of the way things are.
The soft overcomes the hard.
The slow overcomes the fast.
Let your workings remain a mystery.
Just show people the results.
We’re all aware of things we want to change within ourselves. And there are two basic view on how to do this. One is the transcendent view, a kind of metaphysical behavior modification. This is the rising above school, the “get over yourself and let it go” approach. I’ve rarely seen this paradigm work. We may have a momentary release. But few can hold transcendent experience. In my opinion, it tends to be dissociative rather than transformative. I prefer the approach outlined in this verse. No surprise it’s described as the “subtle perception of the way things are.” The conventional wisdom is that if we want to get rid of something, we have to cut it away. The notion of first allowing it to flourish is counter-intuitive. However, our so-called demons feed on fight or flight responses. We starve them by sitting back, watching, witnessing, embracing, allowing that mysterious flourishing. And one day the shift happens. Its workings may remain very much a mystery, but we see the results.
I spent awhile poring over books in my library, looking for parallel texts and/or poetry to bring to class, but nothing jumped off the page. I finally settled on some humorous teaching stories from Jack Kornfield’s Stories of the Spirit, Stories of the Heart. The links between these readings may require that subtle perception, but I think you’ll have no trouble connecting the dots:
A big touch sumurai once went to see a little monk. “monk,” he said, in a voice accustomed to instant obedience, “teach me about heaven and hell!”
The monk looked up at this might warrior and replied with utter disdain, “Teach you about heaven and hell? I couldn’t teach you about anything. You’re dirty. You smell. Your blade is rusty, You’re a disgrace, an embarrassment to the samurai class. Get out of my sight. I can’t stand you.”
The samurai was furious. He shook, got all red in the face, was speechless with rage. He pulled out his sword, raised it above him, preparing to slay the monk.
“That’s hell,” said the monk softly.
The samurai was overwhelmed. The compassion and surrender of this little man who had offered his life to give this teaching to show him hell! He slowly put down his sword, filled with gratitude, and suddenly peaceful.
“And that’s heaven,” said the monk softly.
Nasrudin was eating a poor man’s diet of chickpeas and bread. His neighbor, who also claimed to be a wise man was living in a grand house and dining on sumptuous meals provided by the emperor himself. His neighbor told Nasrudin, “if only you would learn to flatter the emperor and be subservient like I do, you would not have to live on chickpeas and bread.” Nasrudin replied, “and if only you would learn to live on chickpeas and bread, like I do, you would not have to flatter and live subservient to the emperor.”
A young female disciple undertook to develop the meditation on loving-kindness. Sitting n her small room, she would fill her heart with loving-kindness for all beings yet each day as she went to the bazaar to gather her food, she would find her loving-kindness sorely tested by one shopkeeper who would daily subject her to unwelcome caresses. One day she could stand no more and began to chase the shopkeeper down the road with her upraised umbrella. To her mortification she passed her teacher standing on the side of the road observing this spectacle. Shame-faced she went to stand before him expecting to be rebuked for her anger. “What you should do,” her teacher kindly advised her, “is to fill you heart with loving-kindness, and with as much mindfulness as you can muster, hit this unruly fellow over the head with your umbrella.”