I recently heard a man, with no therapeutic training, tell a woman, a therapist, that her understanding of therapy was wrong. She values being present and listening more than giving instruction, and the man told her the patient might as well be talking to a dummy.
It reminded me of a conversation I had with someone who wanted to tell me their story. I listened for more than an hour, occasionally asking a clarifying question. The person found it helpful and comforting — except for when I interrupted to make a comment intended to help and comfort.
I dreamed I was writing in my notebook so I could remember the dream. But, in the dream, things kept happening to prevent my note-taking.
When I was very young, before I had any information about Zen or Buddhism, I annoyed my first girlfriend by saying life was only varying degrees of suffering. When I heard about the First Noble (or Ennobling) Truth, I think it was a relief.
I just finished reading The Uninhabitable Earth, a book of frightening and infuriating urgency by David Wallace-Wells... And I'm remembering a debate I had in the early 1990s with a member of the Revolutionary Communist Party in Edinburgh who told me: "We're not environmentalists. There's no such thing as the environment."
When Ikkyu was abbot of Daitokuji, a layman approached him and said: "Master, you are renowned both for your wisdom and the beauty of your calligraphy. It would be a great honour for me if you would write down some words of guidance which I could hang on my wall and reflect upon."
In the 1960s, my friend Tom McGrath was living in London and was addicted to heroin. In desperation, he went to Samye Ling to see Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche and ask for advice. Trungpa said, "You need to learn how to breathe."
McGrath was disgusted. He'd come all the way to the monastery just to be told he needed to learn how to breathe? He'd been breathing all his life! He went back to London.
He got to know R.D. Laing, and asked him for advice. Laing said, "You need to learn how to breathe, man."
Hearing the same advice from two very different and unrelated teachers, McGrath — who had asthma — realised there might be something to it.
Caught up in our stories, how often do we experience life as it is? No matter what's going on, no matter how frenzied our day, we can interrupt whatever story we're tormenting ourselves with and just be aware of the air we inhale, that keeps us alive, or the clothes that keep us warm, or the ground under our feet, right here, right now. We can turn our attention away from what is not, and bring it to what is. It probably won't solve any of our problems, and it certainly won't cure drug addiction, but it brings us to the work of living our lives.