Digging in the Dirt
There are some areas where I’m going about things all wrong, and I know it—every day.
To reflect and be honest is to dig deep down into the earth of our souls. We may find a few worms, but we mustn’t forget they help fertilize the soil.
1. I resent attention-seekers, and I know exactly why.
Sometimes I resent the competition. I only want positive attention though; this is where I need work. When I can’t find it, either because of my own faults or because others aren’t interested in me, I’d rather be left alone.
2. I file chores and things I’d rather not do under “Wastes of Time.”
We live in a don’t-rest-on-your-laurels society, and if I’m not accomplishing huge successes or volunteering for big causes, I don’t even want to clean the apartment. This especially includes chores that must be done perpetually, like washing dishes and doing the laundry. It’s as if I imagine my mind is better suited for more lofty things. That’s right. I haven’t mastered the Zen behind these activities.
It’s not as if I imagine someone else should do these things, although I’d pay someone if I had the money. It’s the drudgery. Add to this the idea that my body must be attended to daily as well. That I must exercise to stay in shape, wear moisturizer, and pay attention to my diet to stay even decent looking. It’s as if doing something a few times should have the power of permanence. A fellow named Pang-yun, who lived from 740-808 CE, is quoted as saying:
My daily activities are not unusual,
I’m just naturally in harmony with them.
Grasping nothing, discarding nothing…
Supernatural power and marvelous activity—
Drawing water and carrying firewood.
Perhaps I should see my daily activities as having supernatural significance. There is something to be said for such an outlook. It would be a helpful practice; it would make my mind more like that of a child again. If simpler things are full of wonder, then the world, by extension, is more magical again. This is difficult to master day in and day out, after a lifetime of taking simple things for granted.
We grow up getting used to the idea that we are valued more and more by the increasingly impressive feats we achieve. The degrees, the higher-paying jobs, the international vacations, the mastered skills. There are months and sometimes even a decade here and there when we don’t make much progress in these areas. Times like those it is important to go back to simpler sources of magic in everyday life and find enchantment with existence there.
3. I allow myself to gossip by justifying it.
I claim I’m simply trying to understand human psychology and behavior, and that I’m even, perhaps, concerned about the person in question. I don’t consider it vindictive or malicious in any way, unless, of course, it’s negative and about me. I should learn to keep my mouth shut more often—but sometimes it seems like the simplest common-ground for everyday conversation.
4. When I fail at something, I’m bitter toward most people who were involved in pointing it out to me.
To direct that amount of bitterness toward myself would be far too devastating. Sometimes it’s easier to assume the role of the victim than that of the failure. Author Saul Bellow said, “A man should be able to hear, and to bear, the worst that could be said of him.” I’m not even talking about hearing maliciousness here. Just the plain facts.
5. I frequently point out faults in others that (upon closer inspection) are faults I have within myself.
Other times I criticize people I am, for whatever reason, envious of. On some occasions, I dislike people simply because they remind me of someone I already dislike. And on other occasions, there is a weakness in myself I despise and seek to cover up which, when tolerated in others in my presence, makes my blood boil. For example, nothing angers me more than to see an adult woman sulk like a child, because I rally so hard (unsuccessfully) against that behavior in myself.
On the one hand, there is a certain beauty in vulnerability. Author Criss Jami said, “To share your weakness is to make yourself vulnerable; to make yourself vulnerable is to show your strength.” I try to remember this and accept all of life and its turmoil gracefully, however it manifests in myself and in others. It’s certainly more difficult with people we work with or with people we don’t immediately see eye-to-eye with.
The most helpful pointer I have taken from this particular tendency to be shaken by weakness in others is to separate myself temporarily from situations when I can, gain some perspective, appreciate and let the heart grow fonder, and remember these words by Daisaku Ikeda:
“It is much more valuable to look for the strength in others. You can gain nothing by criticizing their imperfections.”
6. I frequently distrust groups, unless they treat me like a leader.
7. I am not humble enough.
I admire people who are. I plaster my emotions and feelings and opinions all over the place. I’m trying to master the art of just Being. Trying to realize that there is beauty in simplicity and elegance.
On the one hand, Goethe said,
“Everything is both simpler than we can imagine, and more complicated than we can conceive.”
On the other hand, there’s this:
“Man is an over-complicated organism. If he is doomed to extinction he will die out for want of simplicity.”
Then there are thoughts on the timeless beauty behind simple style, grace, and unassuming style. In general, I just try to be everything, to know everything, read everything, have every story. It can be exhausting. I don’t expect the same of others. I’m starting to study the Tao Te Ching: I want to learn simplicity, and how to be okay with it. My husband let me know, after 13 years of trying to convince me, that it was okay to sometimes just be, without constantly striving to prove what I’m becoming.
Lately I’ve been overly harsh on myself for all of these. It’s important to understand one’s own flaws, but not to the point where one becomes overwhelmed and discouraged by them. I study myself because it seems so much easier than studying others: I am, after all, most familiar with my own thoughts and feelings. I want to venture out of my own mind in the future, and try to better understand others. This is difficult when others are less than forthcoming. So many people answer the “How’s it going” of life with trite “I can’t complain” or with platitudes that don’t hold up to scrutiny.
I want more substance. I want more magic. I want more confessions. And despite my occasional queasiness in the face of vulnerability, I want more dirt.
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Editor: Rachel Nussbaum
Photo: Gail Margolis