Being preoccupied with the steps you wish you were taking causes us to miss the beauty and importance of the small ones we can make.
Villers le Lac, Doubs, France.
A couple of decisions I just took: I am not making a big deal out of missing an update of my website for the first time in about 80 weeks. And I will write anyhow, posting my writings when I have internet available, possibly with a delay. Yup, that is how zen I am: a disaster like not being connected to the internet is just a minor setback for me and will not interfere with my discipline.
In the background I hear cow bells and birds, when I look over my right shoulder I see numerous shades of lush green and clouds so close, white and fluffy that I am indecisive about if I want to eat them or let myself drop into them.
I am at a zen retreat, something we zennies call ‘sesshin’. It is a period of intensified training. It means that all the students of Genno Roshi who can clear their agendas come to the French Jura to live, practice and meditate together in a quiet, mountainous area.
It is the last day of the first week already. The sesshin started on Saturday but I arrived on Monday. It is Friday today. It is remarkable what 5 days of meditation can do to a person. The best and easiest way to describe it is to find peace inside. That is how I feel right now.
It is not the kind of relaxation that I might feel when I am content with myself or feel that I deserved some kind of reward of relief for achieving something or meeting my expectations. It is just a timeless feeling of being ok with what is.
I received a well meant but critical email last night, inviting me to take another perspective on my ‘career’ and myself. My friend suggested that the way I live my life and my lack of ‘normal’ success that could be expected from somebody of my age, education and background (a stable relationship, children, a steady income) could be motivated by something else than a heart driven desire to challenge norms, conventions and – most importantly – fears. Maybe I am not fitting into society because I am on the run for some unresolved father issues. He suggested a path of conventional therapy and would not be surprised if that path would bring me to a conventional way of living eventually.
Funny enough I think that the peace he wishes upon me is exactly the peace I am feeling right now.
My fellow practitioners have been visiting the same sesshins as me for many years, many of them even a lot longer than me. So I see the same faces every time I go on retreat. Today I noticed how we ripen over the years. I really saw it! And I don’t mean aging but maturing. We all have our personalities with good sides and blind spots and in some way it feels so familiar to be here, as if nothing ever changes. But we do change. And we go step by step. Somebody said something like: “I am always preoccupied with the steps I want to take or wished I could take — the big and impressive steps — but I am never too appreciative for the steps I am taking. The small steps seem less interesting”. It was so beautiful and so true.
I saw the faces of my fellow students and realized how many small steps they have taken over the years. If it is true for them it must be true for me too. (Quite self-evident but we do tend to place ourselves outside of that equation, I have fallen in that trap. But this time I didn’t) I realized how our lives take shape by the little steps we take and how I am taking my own small but deliberate steps. Going step by step has gotten me a pretty long way. And as long as I keep taking little steps I will arrive where I need to be. Sometimes, on a day like this, such words just make sense to me and bring me peace.
Photo credit: Flickr / Horia Varlan