Perspective among the rocks

The brochures say Bryce Canyon is one of the most photographed places in the world. I believe the brochures.

My favorite angel formation
It's sort of cheating to say you gained perspective when you go to places like Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park in Utah. The rocks are big. Really big. The clouds are big. The sky is the biggest. You are small. Lesson learned.

But before I went to see those big rocks, I went to a dharma talk with Ajahn Sumedho, a revered monk who lives in England but grew up in Seattle. I listened to him speak at St. Paul's Cathedral on Capitol Hill, the same church where he grew up attending. Now he was back, head shaved, robed in orange, talking about meditation and the human condition. I know, it's weird. But what was not weird was listening to him speak and somehow finding myself relating to this monk. I have never lived in a monastery nor washed my layers of robes every day nor eaten from a communal bowl of glop collected from kind-hearted villagers who support the monks by giving what little they had. What I have experienced is the judgmental mind, the mind that resists eating food that looks unappetizing, that judges the reasoning behind washing the robes every day, the mind that relies on external approval to gauge whether one is a good monk. It's so easy to be unsatisfied with our lives. But that's the human condition, he said, to think collectively in a particular way. In the American way, we tend to think that we don't have enough, we criticize others, we judge our lives. But he was clothed, he was fed, he had no reason to hate washing his robes. Once he saw he could change how he thought about it, he did.

Ajahn Sumedho was not so bold as to ask us to put a screeching halt to our Western way of thinking and to stop us from wanting more in our lives. But he hoped we could see the distinction between what we need to be fulfilled in life versus what our culture has conditioned us to want, the things we think will make us happy. The clothes (more lululemon!), the relationships, the homes, the right job, the list goes on. But humans can endure quite a bit of sacrifice (even a life without lululemon) and while we can't always control what's going on around us, we can control how we think about it. Instead of worrying about non-delicious food or uncomfortable robes, welcome life as it is. "Life is like this," he says.

It's not the easiest idea to practice. It's a bit much for my not-so-calm and not-so-Zen mind to consider. I want a lot of things. But to know that this rather incredible human being struggled that much with the same concepts was both encouraging, then exasperating because he clearly has overcome them to some degree. But he was undoubtedly inspirational, just like those rocks. Yes, we're back to the rocks. The rocks remind me not to be buried in the little things. The little things, the drama, the junk, they don't really matter.


Y is for Yogini said...

Beautiful thoughts on rocks. Everything is here to teach us something. :)

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Header Image from Bangbouh @ Flickr