When a great Zen Master returned to his country after many years of studying abroad the people asked what he brought with him. He said, "I've come with nothing but empty hands."
What are these empty hands? What value are they of us today? Usually our own hands are full, filled with tasks, problems and possessions that seem impossible to put down. Our lives are crowded with decisions, plans and dreams. When these plans are not fulfilled, when events do not go as we would wish, or when change comes unexpectedly, many start to grasp and hold on. This grasping itself increases anxiety. Few know how to truly deal with change or understand why it is happening to them. Living by Zen shows us how to stop clinging and open both our hands and minds to the new possibilities that are always present for us.
Many people's lives are centered around accumulation. They become very proud of what they have accumulated; money, degrees, skills, friends, information, property, lovers. Soon they are so full they can hardly move, and yet they still search for more, cramming every corner of their homes and lives full. Before long, they even believe what they have is who they are. It is not so easy to stop accumulating and simply clean out the drawers. Many have not yet learned the value of empty space.
Along with the process of accumulation, the process of attachment appears. Many become afraid of losing that which they have. Everything seems precious, no matter what. How often do they stop and ask, "Do I need this anymore? Is it still valuable? When is it time to let go?"
How We Know Ourselves
Most of us feel we are our job, possessions, achievements, and relationships. This is how we know ourselves. If we lose one of them, we feel we have lost part of ourselves. Somehow we have not identified with the basis of all life, which is constantly moving, changing, growing. In order to expand our sense of selves it is necessary to stop fighting and resisting life, to become willing to let go.
But, whether or not we want to let go, life itself decides for us. Change comes in its own time, both giving and taking things away. When this happens, many suffer greatly from this sense of loss. A usual response is to hold on tighter.
When Change Comes
When change comes, the first thing we must realize is that the harder we hold on, the more we crush what we have in the palm of our hands. This is not the way to avoid suffering. In fact, the pain of loss is caused by resistance to what is going on. The more we fight what is happening, the more we resist the natural flow of life, the more we suffer and helpless we can feel.
There are many ways we hold on and resist what is happening in our lives - through domination, depression, denial, endless activity, immediately making new plans. By fighting change this way we are insisting that life meet our particular demands, fulfill our needs and expectations. A battle is set up. Much energy is squandered.
As we live by Zen, we find a different way of approaching change. When change, loss or disturbance comes, we plant ourselves in the center of the storm and allow ourselves to fully experience what is going on. Instead of being blown all over by the turbulence, we become the center of the tornado, filled with energy and focus. We let go of the ways we "think" things should be going and allow ourselves to fully be with what is. As we do this a great question arises - what do we really have that we can lose?
This question is called a koan; a question that cannot be answered rationally. As we work on this koan, our minds, heart and hands become empty, open and clear for a new way of understanding and being. As we stop clinging, and start letting go into the truth of the moment, we discover who we truly are and are filled with fresh wisdom.
Now as we are living by Zen fears diminish, grasping lets go and our sense of being becomes planted on a stable foundation. In this process we begin to experience life differently and also have a taste of who we truly are. Our hands then become empty too. Empty hands are pliable, flexible, and useful. They can touch and comfort, they can give and receive, they can do what is needed when the moment appears.
Discover 2,000 year old Zen secrets to being calm, balanced and positive, no matter what is going on in your life through Living By Zen, (Timeless Truths For Everyday Life), http://www.livingbyzen.com by Dr. Brenda Shoshanna. She is a psychologist, speaker and workshop leader, long term Zen practitioner and teacher and also author of Zen Miracles, (Finding Peace In An Insane World), Wiley, 2002, Zen and the Art of Falling In Love and other books. Dr. Shoshanna teaches in universities, the community, online for Barnes And Noble University and is relationship expert on http://www.ivillage.com. Her wonderful program on Living By Zen is available at http://www.livingbyzen.com (Contact her at mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org. (212) 288-0028.)