A Word to the Wise: The Zen Arts of Letting Go of Our Stories

A Word to the Wise: The Zen Arts of Letting Go of Our Stories November 3, 2018




On my Facebook page a friend posted this quote from the philosopher Alexander Rosenberg:

“Our demand for plotted narratives is the greatest obstacle to getting a grip on reality.”

I really, really liked it.

I think it points the great dilemma of our lives, our great strength which is also our great stumbling block. And how we engage what we have.

On the one hand while some animals are strong, others are fast, and some are masters of disguise, we, we humans are smart. And the essence of that “smart” is our ability to take things apart and put them back together that allows us to engage the world in ways that have, well, given us this world on a silver platter.

On the other hand we are so programmed to find meaning that if we can’t find it, well, then, we manufacture it.

Our brains seem to work by way of metaphor. Something is like this, something is not like that. And, this works pretty well. Actually, it works really well. Stories arise as naturally for us as breathing. However, then we create master plots. We strive to have narratives that have a conclusion. And then we put our hope in those conclusions, the end of the plot. Which, are almost always totally made up out of our desires and fears.

Zen as a spiritual discipline is about letting go of the narratives. We do this in two ways. The one is simple as pie: sit down, shut up, pay attention. A favorite term for this is shikantaza, just sitting. The pause in witnessing is an amazing thing. The other is to use stories in a sort of spiritual jujitsu. The word for this is koan introspection. It is an truly wonderful gift from our ancestors on the ways of freedom.

With these we have the arts in hand to let go of the narratives, the plot lines that take us toward, well, whatever.

Then all we have to do is do it. The way is both as hard as walking a razor’s edge, and as easy as falling off a log. It can be hard to find our way, so sometimes it is important to find a friend, a guide.

Here’s my promise. Persist and you can find find the grip of the master plots lessen. Lessen enough to let you break free of the world you thought was real.

And instead, we find a new world. One of endless possibility, of endless directions. Then as the stories arise rather than be used by them, we can use them.

A word to the wise…

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