Pivot 46: Uncomplicate

Yesterday was a Saturday and our first day in moderate lockdown – as in, all the pubs, restaurants, cafes, gyms and leisure centres are now closed, except for those that can operate as takeaways. On Friday, the schools closed their doors to all but the children of keyworkers. All school GCSEs and A-Levels have now been cancelled, and most universities have given up on end of year exams too. Already, the UK healthcare staff are posting truly shocking, heart-rending videos reporting full intensive treatment units, a shortage of ventilators, and an overwhelming lack of protective (PPE) clothing – and we are only at the beginning of the crisis. The key workers are begging us others to stay at home. They are saying, ‘We are staying at work to look after you, we ask you to stay at home to stop the spread of the virus.’

Italy had an unspeakable day yesterday, losing some 800 souls in one day. Army trucks rumble through Lombardy transporting the bodies of dear beings who will have no funeral, and whose loved ones may not have been able to say goodbye, let alone be with them in their last hours. And so, bit by bit, the world has put itself in quarantine. Countries have asked their people to go inside and stay inside. For the first time in industrial history, we have reduced our activity to the absolute minimum. And my goodness, for those of us lucky enough to be at home, something extraordinary is happening: we are stopping, resting, unwinding, hearing ourselves think. It’s not necessarily comfortable to hear your inner voice if you have been ardently drowning it out for years, but really, in these circumstances we have little choice but to… stop, collaborate and listen to ourselves?

Yesterday, I felt myself unwinding like a child on a swing which had been wound up taut and was just starting to unwind, gathering speed. I had to lie in bed with my eyes rolling about in my head til about 2pm. Eventually, I got dressed, and G and I went for a walk in the woods in the spring sunshine – how lucky we are to live in the countryside. How amazing it is that with no social centres open, for so many, our only activity available outside the house will be going into nature with the people with whom we are self-isolating. My goodness, the air felt so fresh, and the light and scents so vivid. The chatter of the birds was scintillating. Quietude is bringing my awareness back to life. How dulled I have become by my busy mind and my constant self-propelled human urgency.

In the evening, G, A (DD2) and I ‘went to the pub’ at the end of the kitchen, and had cocktails. Then we had dinner in front of the tv and set out to choose our shared boxset for this indoors season together. Tonight, for Mothers’ Day, we will gather five family households together on Zoom. These are extraordinary days. In houses families are resting and gathering in peace – some nursing the mildly affected, others simply nursing their anxieties about the pandemic, others nursing their boredom or frustration, many nursing the startling fact that they have lost their livelihoods in one fell swoop. In the evenings, especially in Italy and Spain, people are coming to their balconies to sing together, or to applaud the healthcare workers’ heroism.

Meanwhile, in our hospitals, a battle of unthinkable, unspeakable proportions is being waged by an army of cleaners, cooks, HCAs, nurses and doctors. Hosts of warehouse staff, grocery shop workers, delivery drivers, teachers and social care staff meanwhile risk their health too, in keeping the country’s show on the road. I cannot describe how much nobility and selflessness we are seeing – and also, sadly, how much self-serving cowardice, like in those major businesses who really could have stepped up to support but instead have, for example, simply sacked their entire workforce from one moment to the next.

Look at this beautiful film…

For my part, I woke up today, with an unfamiliar voice in my head. I can call it the Wise Director-Judge. I like it. I guess it was there all along, but drowned out by Busy Mind. I thought about how, as leader of the massive peaceful movements against the British, Gandhi would meditate all morning before making any decisions about the day’s next steps. All morning. And my goodness, the decisions he made were wise. well-directed, well-judged. This is what is available to us if we bring this Big Mind (expansive, meditative, connected, tuned in, parasympathetic state, non-reactive mind) to the fore. Right? What does it take to really give oneself over to trusting that, as it were, a morning’s meditation is more sensible than a morning’s busy activity?

It helps to think of the ‘morning’s meditation’ as a mental workout rather than a break/rest/chill out. This is how to access the Big Mind and bring it in to the day.

Imagine you are holding a tray, and the tray holds 3 glasses, each filled with water almost to the brim. You are asked to the take the tray of glasses up to the village, a mile away, on foot. We can guarantee that by the time you arrive at the village, having set your whole bodily attention so avidly on one (cognitively non-complex) task, you will have accessed Big Mind. 

The same cannot be said for 15 mins sitting in half-thought. 

Yes, that’s a helpful distinction. I guess that’s why the actual Zen position (lotus – which I am actually not using in my ‘zazen’) is mind-clarifying. Cos it ain’t comfy… I’m starting to get a sense of the edges of this Zen approach. It seems to offer such rich gifts.

How can I better access my Big Mind in these days. and be guided by the Wise Director-Judge?

Also, speak to me of prayerfulness.

Let’s read.

We are in Part 3 of Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind: ‘Right Understanding’.

TRADITIONAL ZEN SPIRIT:  We should understand why our physical posture and breathing exercise are so important. Instead of having a deep understanding of the teaching, we need a strong confidence in our teaching, which says that originally we have Buddha nature. Our practice is based on this faith.  … Whether you practice zazen or not, you have Buddha nature. Because you have it, there is enlightenment in your practice. The points we emphasize are not the stage we attain, but the strong confidence we have in our original nature and the sincerity of our practice. We should practice Zen with the same sincerity as Buddha. If originally we have Buddha nature, the reason we practice zazen is that we must behave like Buddha. To transmit our way is to transmit our spirit from Buddha. So we have to harmonize our spirit, our physical posture, and our activity with the traditional way. You may attain some particular stage, of course, but the spirit of your practice should not be based on an egoistic idea. According to the traditional Buddhist understanding, our human nature is without ego. When we have no idea of ego, we have Buddha’s view of life. Our egoistic ideas are delusion, covering our Buddha nature. We are always creating and following them, and in repeating this process over and over again, our life becomes completely occupied by egocentered ideas. This is called karmic life, or karma. The Buddhist life should not be karmic life. The purpose of our practice is to cut off the karmic spinning mind. Zen Mind p99ff

I love this. I read here a similarity between the Wise Director-Judge and acting from our Buddha Nature. Like they are similar concepts to me. And they are about developing practices which get us back into our original non-ego-driven state. ‘The purpose of our practice is to cut off the karmic spinning mind.’ As I read this chapter I kept hearing the work, ‘Uncomplicate’. Yes. It’s different to the elusive idea of ‘simplifying’.

Could I find the ways in which I complicate my life, and life itself?

Could I acknowledge that in complicating my life, I make myself less available to my truer nature?

Could I see that, if I uncomplicate things for myself, I can participate more effectively and honestly in this extraordinary moment in humans’ history?

Can I admit that, my life is too complicated for me to offer service?

Can I own that, I think that ‘complicated’ is clever, and I’ve been putting complexity out there to impress people – and effectively have ground myself to a halt that way?

Softly. Softly. Do not chastise yourself. 

Wise mind. Inner self. Wise Director-Judge. Help me uncomplicate myself and my life. Give me this clarity of mind, I pray.

There we are. You have answered all your own questions. Take yourself out in to your day with this word and see how it flows through you… 



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