Of Monks, Meditation, and Crookedness
There is a story of a Zen monk who lived in the fifteenth century in Japan. In the town where this monk lived the governor posted a sign next to a twisted and gnarled pine tree. The sign read, “Whoever can see this crooked pine tree as straight will receive a prize.” Many who walked past the tree and read the sign stopped and tried to figure out the riddle. Many people circled the tree, some several times. Others would lie on the ground and look up from below. A few even climbed the tree and one person even brought a ladder so as to get a view from above. But nobody could figure out the riddle of how to see the crooked tree as straight.
One day the Monk came walking by and read the sign. He looked at the tree and immediately went to the governor’s estate. He claimed,
“I have solved the riddle and would like my prize.”
Somewhat surprised, and perhaps a bit suspicious, the governor asked, “How did you see the crooked tree straight?” The Monk answered, “It is crooked. A crooked tree is crooked, and to see it just as it is, is to see it straight.” – Gregg Krech
Buddhist Monk and Their Art
Buddhist monks practice the art of presence and acceptance of things exactly as they are. In this space, gratitude can be found and a far more joyous life can ensue. This is not just done simply by stating “I accept this exactly as it is” (though, this can actually be quite helpful many times), rather it is a practiced state of being and way of thinking. It is practiced and trained through the building of habits and aligning yourself with this type of thinking.
It is very interesting that this story portrays a monk as the one who saw the tree as straight in its crooked frame. This is a very accurate character to use as the subject of this story, as meditation is a focal point of monk mentality. It is very much through meditation that this type of mindset can be found. If meditation is cultivated and harnessed correctly, it is extremely powerful; life-altering in fact. “Meditation” does not only refer to “mindfulness” meditation, in which you look to simply be present and clear your mind; there are many types of meditation.
One of those types is meditation in which you focus upon the realities that you desire in life – visualization and other techniques of this kind. You can focus on who you want to be, how you want to act, how you want to treat others, what you want to accomplish. Focus like this can bring about massive change. Visualization is shown to be interpreted by the brain the same way that actually doing something in real life is. In other words, visualizing something about the life you want to lead or something you want to change about yourself, and focusing on that positive reality each day, can bring about that change. It trains your mind to believe that it is true.
Does this mean we do not have to take action? Absolutely not, we must take action to build habits and we must engage in order to make permanent change. What this does mean though is that you can have access to a powerful tool to enable you to begin doing whatever those things are that you focus upon in meditation and visualization in the real world, before you have to throw yourself into the thick of it unprepared. You have to train your brain.
So much has to do with how we interpret and perceive. Two people can see the same exact thing, one walks away negatively impacted and the other positively impacted. This is due to the way we personally interpret or perceive something. Of course, there are other factors, but we must take responsibility for our thoughts and be aware of our reactions, working to train ourselves to see things in the light we would like to.
We can choose to accept something as it is, or we can choose to complain about it. We can choose to focus on what we can control, or remain miserable and concerned over what we cannot. In hard times or when we are suffering, we can choose to focus on what we are grateful for and focus on the factors we can actually do something about, or we can choose to place blame on external factors and make ourselves into the victim. It is a daily effort, and determines much of the way our lives play out. Focus on the negative, you get more negative back. Focus on the positive, you get more positive back.
There Are Certain Things That We Can Change
Things that we should go about taking the steps to make better and overcome. Then, there are others that it is better for us to be aware of the flaws of and just accept them as “crooked”. It may be crooked, but you can choose to perceive it as good enough because we are indeed imperfect beings that lead imperfect lives. Make progress, learn, and become better. Do all these things, yes. But also, accept that you are a human being and you are certainly imperfect. Every single one of us is.
Focus on your sobriety; work towards perfection in this. Do this. These words are not meant to suggest you are to simply accept this as an imperfection that you cannot change; this doesn’t do you or anybody else any good. Instead, what these words are meant to communicate is that there are things that you need to work to love yourself with. Imperfections or hardships you have personally that you need to work on letting go or accepting that it’s okay for you to struggle with, because everyone’s got ’em. One of the major sources of addiction is not accepting yourself as good enough. Forgive yourself for the other ways in which you struggle or are “crooked”, and realize that you are a human being that is making progress. From this place, you can begin to gain the mindset of a sober life in a meaningful way.
In this, understand that other people are also flawed. If we spend all our time looking at them as crooked and expecting them to change, we will be constantly disappointed, aggravated, impatient, or critical with them. On the other hand, if we understand that they are crooked, just as we ourselves are, and we work to simply expect that they will make mistakes but we can love them just the same, then our happiness level will go up and we will be able to treat others with far more compassion.
When somebody else you know makes a mistake, ask yourself,
“were they imperfect before? Of course they were. Then nothing has changed; they are exactly the same as they were a minute ago before they made the mistake. So I love them just the same.”
Try to see others as straight in their crookedness and realize that we all have to be here for each other. Because in your difficult times, you so desperately want someone to be genuinely there for you, do the same for others. Put yourself in their shoes if you can. The more we see someone else as straight instead of crooked, the straighter they can be encouraged to become over time. Through genuine trust, connection, and empathy, people become motivated to choose the right things for themselves and they learn that they are worthy of a better life. Reach out, love, and let yourself be loved by others.
It is common for those who struggle with addictions to feel they are the only “crooked” people around. Everyone is struggling with something. Keep your head up and move forward. Be positive and face your challenges with courage.
We frequently look at people and think,
“I wish I had it all together like they do.”
The truth is that everyone is struggling with something … everyone!
This life is full of challenges and sometimes those who seem to, “Have It All Together” are the most troubled and broken.
Think of Hollywood
There are so many wonderful actors and one that comes into my mind is Robin Williams (my favorite). I rarely get choked up when a famous person dies. I’m just not connected to them. However, when Robin Williams died, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
He had everything …. So I Thought!
In reality, he was always struggling and was extremely depressed and wanted to die.
How could the funniest man in the world want to die. I just could not believe it, hence, we all have our own junk, we all are crooked trees.
Accept the truth, be okay with it and move forward. Don’t worry about tomorrow, just focus on today.
If you need to break it down to even smaller segments, then do.
Focus on the next hour, 3 hours, 10 hours, whatever you need to do to keep small manageable goals towards sobriety.
You Can Do It!