“A single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.”
– Henry David Thoreau
We are so accustomed to disguise ourselves to others, that in the end, we become disguised to ourselves.
– Francois de la Rochefoucauld, in The Goldfinch
We may think of choosing a career path like choosing a train to ride.
We arrive at the station when we graduate from college,
We study the train map and schedule, to decide which is the ‘right’ train to get on.
This decision is agonizing, we strive to absorb as much information as possible and figure out ‘where we want to go’.
We decide, then wait on the platform for the train – the one that is destined for greatness – to arrive.
When it arrives, we board it optimistically, feeling certain that the train and tracks will conspire to carry us to the exact destination we selected, at the time that was promised on the schedule.
Our responsibility is to evaluate the train, and then choose to stay on the this one, or to get off and board another.
But a career path is not a train we board to enjoy a ride. Imagine a career path like going hiking.
When we graduate from college, we carry with us a backpack full of book knowledge and street smarts, warm blankets and extra socks.
We approach the uncharted woods, and consider what direction to head in.
To the right is a patch of evergreen trees, to the left a rocky downhill with a rushing river at the base. In the center, is flat land, with a mountain in the distance.
We choose an initial direction, and then take a step, and another and another.
Within each path, there are opportunities to shape your journey.
After walking for a bit, perhaps we come upon a new clearing, a smaller hill, a field of flowers, or a lookout point.
I suggest we pause to reflect and adjust based on our learnings and new visions.
We walk not in straight lines, but in zig zags and pivots, climbing at times and descending at other times.
We walk, hopefully enjoying the path as much as where we’re headed, and preserving our health and energy for what we hope will be a long and fruitful journey.
Tings against the ceramic in
Cadence like a small church bell
Warmth emanates to my hands
Smells of roasted oat and cardboard permeate my nostrils
Ribbons of honey and chamomile bathe my taste buds
The mug is ordinary, green,
A cricket orchestra, a soundtrack to this
i committed to stay in silence,
And should not be writing, but my
Lips curled up in
Joy and i had to
Share it with you.
You do not need fixing, she said,
You are not broken
i believed her for that moment, my
Heart’s vision stretched to encompass every One
Opened towards Love
Compassionate threads in the
Wholeness of Life
Without a word from Vasudeva, the speaker felt that the ferryman took in his words, silent, open, waiting, missing none, impatient for non, neither praising nor blaming, but only listening, Siddhartha felt what happiness it is to unburden himself to such a listener, to sink his own life into this listener’s hart, his own seeking his own suffering.Siddhartha, by Hermann Hesse, translated by Joachim Neugroschel
What father, what teacher could shield him from living his own life, soiling himself with life, burdening himself with guilt, drinking the bitter drink himself, finding this path himself? Do you really believe, dear friend, that anyone at all is spared this path?Siddhartha, by Herman Hesse, translated by Joachim Neugroschel
(excerpt from discussion between Siddhartha and Vasudeva, the Ferryman, about Siddhartha’s son)
Siddhartha: How can I put him in that world? Will he not become haughty, will he not surrender to pleasure and power, will he not repeat all his father’s mistakes, will he not perhaps lose himself entirely in samsara?
Vasudeva: Do you really believe you committed your follies to spare your son? And can you shield your son against Sahara? How? …
V: Could his father’s piety, his teachers’ admonitions, his own knowing, his own seeking save his? What father, what teacher could shield him from living his own life, soiling himself with life, burdening himself with guilt, drinking the bitter drink himself, finding this path himself? Do you really believe, dear friend, that anyone at all is spared this path? Perhaps your little son because you love him, because you would like to spare hi pain and sorrow and disillusion? But even if you died for him ten times per, you could not take away even the tiniest bit of his destiny.
A lump, gray, nondescript
But in my vision it is glorious
i lay my simple tool
On the gripping surface
Scrape away one sliver
And a third
The lump changes only imperceptibly
i aim the tool to remove the excesses
Bit by bit
To reveal the form
Enveloped within the clay
There is no short cut to its birth
Each bit removed
One by one
No use to celebrate after each
Or look forward to promised success
There is none
i can only
Be here now.
Then, a feature is unearthed
From what remains
i stop to admire what became clear
Only with the loss of what was unnecessary
i do not own its intricate glory
i am the instrument
i welcome the pause
And raise my tool again
A simple reminder from my son’s classroom to not mimic what you see around you. Identify, appreciate and leverage your unique gifts.
In most areas of our life, we follow the American cultural norm that more is better. A vacation lasting 7 days is better than one lasting 3 days. Winning a $5 lottery ticket is not as good as winning the jackpot. Even in the realm of the arts, writing a haiku poem of 17 syllables does not garner as much social acclaim as publishing a novel. And in my discussions with people who are building a meditation practice, we believe that 1 hour of meditation is more beneficial than 1 minute.
However, this is not how things are valued in meditation. Meditation is about acceptance, and so if you meditate for one minute, that just is. If you meditate for one hour, that just is. There is no purpose in comparing the relative value of the two meditation sessions.
But in our culture, we are trained to evaluate nearly everything we do. We push ourselves to climb the imaginary ladder to receive the higher salary, to buy the larger home, and even to have a greater number of Instagram followers… Similarly, with meditation, many of us may push ourselves to ‘succeed’ in meditation, but there is no governing body of meditation to define success. Absent a set of defined criteria, many of us look to the duration of a session to be a concrete way to judge the value of our meditation.
The meditation app Insight Timer has a feature called “detailed charts and stats”. A user can click into it to review metrics including minutes per day, average session duration, longest session duration and several others. I believe they included these because statistics can be strong motivators for many of us to set and track towards a goal, and to challenge ourselves to do more.
However, what I found interesting is that on the main profile page, the most visible statistic displayed is number of consecutive days with at least one session of meditation. It seems that if we need a measurable statistic to keep us focused on building a practice, this would be one to pay attention to. Choosing to meditate each day of the month, even for a 1 minute session, will have greater benefit than doing a 30 day session on one day and doing nothing for the rest of the month. Returning to meditation day after day builds a habit, and that is the power of a meditation practice.
Periodically I relapse to judging the duration of my practice. When I notice that I am holding that judgment, I loosen my grip on it, and gently tell myself that at least I made the time to sit on my mat, despite the fullness of my work, family and community activities. When I consider this new thought, my jaw tends to relax, and I can take a smoother breath. My body loosens and settles to the here and now, even if just for a few moments until the next thought arrives in my mind.
So, the lesson for me has been this- whether my practice is 5 minutes or an hour, I am more present just by letting go of the thought that a longer meditation would be better. And being present is indeed the point.