Zen in a torn curtain

There’s great beauty in imperfection. Celebrate it!
The normal human tendency is to strive for perfection. We like things to always work fine. We like it when Life goes to a plan – our plan! We love it when everything is in its place – the way we want it to be. The way we live, the way we dress, the way we decorate our living spaces – all of this happens while we strive for perfection. But Life’s imperfect. In its own, unique way. Things often get messed up, plans go awry and nothing ever stays the way we want it to. While we will naturally tend to get frustrated with the way Life operates at such times, if you pause to reflect, you will still find Life beautiful!
This morning, I notice that one of the curtains in our living room was torn. There were guests visiting us and I noticed the tear when I was sitting with them. I kept wondering how the tear had happened and after the guests left, I spent a fair amount of time trying to understand what may have caused the fabric to tear! Then, because we don’t have a curtain to replace this one immediately, I tucked away the torn portion deftly, so that it wouldn’t show! As I finished this “mini-salvage mission”, I smiled to myself. I thought that even the way the torn curtain was now, with a forced wrinkle that hid the tear, it looked good. I concluded that we didn’t have to work toward replacing the torn curtain immediately.
That’s when I was reminded of an old Zen story.

A priest was in charge of the garden within a famous Zen temple. He had been given the job because he loved the flowers, shrubs, and trees. Next to the temple there was another, smaller temple where there lived a very old Zen Master.

One day, when the priest was expecting some special guests, he took extra care in tending to the garden. He pulled the weeds, trimmed the shrubs, combed the moss, and spent a long time meticulously raking up and carefully arranging all the dry autumn leaves. As he worked, the old Master watched him with interest from across the wall that separated the temples.
When he had finished, the priest stood back to admire his work. “Isn’t it beautiful,” he called out to the old Master. “Yes,” replied the old man, “but there is something missing. Help me over this wall and I’ll put it right for you.”
After hesitating, the priest lifted the old fellow over and set him down. Slowly, the Master walked to the tree near the center of the garden, grabbed it by the trunk, and shook it. Leaves showered down all over the garden. “There,” said the old man, “you can put me back now.”
The learning here is that, when Life goes its own way, often turning all your plans upside down, flow with Life. Don’t crave for clarity on what’s going to happen next or seek predictability. Simply live with and celebrate the imperfection. Wanting things to be different than what they are, than the way they are, is a sure way to invite misery and suffering. Instead live with Life as it is. And enjoy its beauty the way it is!
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A lesson from a pavement dweller – Life’s beautiful despite the scars

Make the most of your imperfect Life. Accept it, celebrate it and you will find that it is perfect, after all!
We often look for our lives to be perfect. We keep searching for what we don’t have and, often, in the bargain, miss out on living the Life we already have. Sometimes, people, through their own stories, teach us how to live with the imperfect, and still make the experience memorable!  
Maria: Gritty
Picture Courtesy: New Indian Express/Internet
Maria, a 19-year-old pavement dweller in Chennai, is one of them. Today’s ‘New Indian Express’ recounts her gritty story. She was forced to give up school after class 8, was married off, became a widow soon after, and lost her doting father too – all in a period of a little over a year. She had to sell all kinds of knick-knacks at traffic signals on the streets of Chennai to provide for her mother and two siblings. But thanks to the Suyam Charitable Trust, she enrolled for her 10th Boards as a private candidate and cleared it two years ago. Then the Trust helped her join the Perambur Higher Secondary School for her +2. She finished her 12th Boards this week with a flourish – scoring 890 on 1200! All this, while she lived her other Life on the pavements and earned a living at traffic signals. Maria is now the first girl from the pavement dweller community from Chennai to have ever completed Higher Secondary grade. She says she wants to either become a nutritionist or get a nursing degree. She told ‘NIE’s’ Jonathan Ananda: “…come what may, I will get my family out of here.”
Maria’s story resonates with the Japanese philosophy of ‘kintsugi’. ‘kintsugi’ or ‘kintsukuroi’ is the Japanese art of fixing broken pottery with lacquer resin, dusted or mixed with silver, gold or platinum and understanding that the piece is more beautiful for having been broken. As a philosophy ‘kintsugi’ is known to have similarities with the Japanese concept of ‘wabi-sabi’– which means embracing the flawed or the imperfect. ‘kintsugi’ also relates to the Japanese philosophy of ‘no mind’ or ‘mushin’ which means non-attachment, acceptance of change and fate as inevitable aspects of human Life. ‘kintsugi’ celebrates this spirit of acceptance, of making do and working and living with what is – understanding that the scars of Life cannot be undone. But you go on and rebuild with what is left, with what you have. Maria personifies this spirit – turning out, as she has, more beautiful and stronger from the experience she is going through!
That’s the key learning here. No matter what’s broken about your Life, no matter how dark the night is, no matter how incredible your situation may be, pick up the threads each day, and go on weaving. Your Life may never play out the way you planned it. But what is evolving, the way your Life is unfolding, despite your circumstances, despite the scars, is still beautiful and is really the Life that is ordained for you! Amidst all the perceived imperfection lies your perfect Life.

Perfection and Problemlessness ain’t happening!

Being happy does not require ‘perfection’ or a ‘zero-problem status’ as a pre-condition.

In fact, both perfection and ‘problemlessness’ are impractical goals. We will never get a problem-free or perfect Life. So, you can go on postponing happiness as much as you want, in the hope that you will first ‘sort out things’, ‘mourn your losses’ and then ‘be happy’. Only that, when you do finally ‘wake up’, ‘willing’ to be happy, you will find that the years have gone by, you are walking towards your sunset and that there’s very little or no time left __ to live or be happy!
Examine: Are you grieving? Are you mourning a loss? Are you facing a seemingly unrealistic challenge? If yes, ask yourself, how is postponing happiness, going to remove the condition that is causing you grief or replace what you have lost or tide over your challenge? You get the point? So, just chill.
Enjoy the weekend!

See Life for what it is and not as you are!


Everything’s so perfect about our lives. We just don’t see it because we insist on seeing Life not as it is but as we are!

Just reflect on how you perceive Life on a daily basis. It is always about you. About your needs. Your wants. Your worries. Your anxieties. Your fears. And you fear, sometimes, about losing everything, because you are attached to them. So, on a daily basis, your Life revolves around you. Right from your maid not showing up to work (more prevalent in an Indian context!) to your commute to work being affected by a lousy traffic snarl to your meetings running behind schedule to your child having to be driven to the evening’s game to your report having to be readied for your customer __ everything, absolutely, everything about your Life is about you! And when you look at Life so myopically, the imperfections loom large in front of your eyes. Things are amazingly dysfunctional. Maids are thankless, so you believe. Traffic management in our cities is getting from bad to worse. You find the work-Life balance too hard to maintain and sometimes want to quit working but without the double income, the family cannot afford all the small luxuries it presently has! Arrrrrrrrrrrggggghhhh! And damn those reports. You wonder whether your customer hardly reads them __ but they want it because they are the ones who pay your bills! It is such a hard job living in this harsh, mad world!

There’s a way out of this tyranny. You just need to zoom out. Take your attention away from yourself for a while. And see Life as it is. You will then discover that you are having a hard time living, because you are trying hard to simply earn a living. You are making an effort. And there’s imperfection in every effort. Instead allow yourself to flow with Life. Look at nature. It just exists despite the scars on the mountain faces and the undulating depths of lakes and oceans. Or despite the stark contrasts of seasons. Or the waning and waxing moon leaving more nights dark than aglow. Nature doesn’t protest. But you and I do it all the time. We complain about what we have to do or what we don’t have. We protest. We resist. Therefore we see a whole Life of imperfection. Because the focus is on becoming something, than on simply being.

There is a Zen story that I once read in a book by Osho, the Master:

A Zen Master was making a painting, and he had his chief disciple sit by his side to tell him when the painting was perfect. The disciple was worried and the Master was also worried. Because the disciple had never seen the Master do anything imperfect. But that day things started going wrong. The Master tried, and the more he tried, the more it was a mess.

In Japan or in China, the whole art of calligraphy is done on rice-paper, on a certain paper, a very sensitive paper, very fragile. If you hesitate a little, for centuries it can be known where the calligrapher hesitated — because more ink spreads into the rice-paper and makes it a mess. It is very difficult to deceive on rice-paper. You have to go on flowing; you are not to hesitate. Even for a single moment. split moment, if you hesitate — what to do? — missed, already missed. And one who has a keen eye will immediately say, “It is not a Zen painting at all” — because a Zen painting has to be a spontaneous painting, flowing.

The Master tried and tried and the more he tried — he started perspiring. And the disciple was sitting there and shaking his head again and again negatively: ‘No, this is not perfect.’ And more and more mistakes were being made by the Master.

Then the ink was running out so the Master said, “You go out and prepare more ink.” While the disciple was outside preparing the ink, the Master did his masterpiece. When he came in he said, “Master, but this is perfect! What happened?”

The Master laughed; he said, “I became aware of one thing: your presence. The very idea that somebody is there to appreciate or to condemn, to say no or yes, disturbed my inner tranquility. Now I will never be disturbed. I have come to know that I was trying to make it perfect and that was the only reason for its not being perfect.”
 

So beautiful. In our trying to become something, like the Zen Master, we obsess with ourselves. And the myriad dimensions of our lives. Because we are attached to things and people in our lives and in trying to be very good at earning a living, providing, in trying to make our lives perfect, we don’t live at all. That’s why we don’t see the beauty of Life, of our lives, and we miss all that is flowing around us. We miss the perfection in Life’s ways, its timing of our lives’ events, our experiences, our learnings, our inner growth and our joys__which always emerge from our deepest sorrows! In Life, with Life, it is always__and only__what it is. So, stop expecting your Life to be any different from what it is now. And flow with it. Over time, Life will change. Your Life will change. And when you look back, you will find that had it not been for what you have gone through, you will not be the person who you are today and you will not have got to where you are too! So, don’t see Life for the way you are, but for what it is. Then, only then, will the Life that is waiting for you will unveil itself! Only then, as the Buddha said so famously, you will look up at the sky and laugh __ because everything, everything about this world and your Life, is so perfect!