Mending The Breach

A couple of weeks ago, on an incredibly warm, blue-sky day, as the snow pack melted into torrents of water, my neighbor stopped by to tell me that my irrigation canal had breached its banks. I pulled on my Wellingtons and followed her down to have a look. The swiftly moving water was eddying around fallen branches and banging into the sides of the canal at each turn as it made its way from the head gate at the creek, through the woods, to the hillside pasture. 

There in three places, the rushing water had eaten away the bank and was gushing into the woods and down the hill. As we opened our senses to what was right there, our plan of action emerged. We set to work. Collecting the flattest rocks from a nearby pile, scooping up mats of last autumn’s leaves from underfoot, and collecting rich mud from the earthen banks that had given way, we began building retainer walls.

We felt the texture of cold, rough stone, dried, brittle plant, and mucky earth. We watched the water curl, swirl and race and felt its brilliant coldness as we placed a rock, applied our handmade mortar of leaves and mud, and then placed another rock. Presence, a tender calmness, our open senses, and a wondrous sense of spaciousness guided our movements.

The trickster water changed course, seeping not here now, but over there. We placed a rock there. We patched with mud here. Rhythmically, moving as in a dance along the narrow path at the canal’s edge, we didn’t need words or feel the hurly-burly of emotions. Our work carried us. Time passed. Birds flitted above. Sunlight filtered down in glistening waves. The walls held. 

This experience is with me as I ponder. How often do we push others away when discord happens? How vigorously do we find fault or blame when something goes awry or someone hurts us? How disheartened do we feel when something breaks? How often do we approach the every day stuff of life with our full presence and open heart? This is our choice.  

How we perceive a situation is everything. In an instant a reaction might burst in us and in another instant, as we notice this eruption, we can pause and bring our full awareness and compassionate heart on line.

This coming into kind presence as we mended the breach in the canal bank, is the same kind presence we can call upon in ourselves when we perceive someone or something has wronged us.

Imagine that when seeing the water flooding over the banks of the canal, we had become angry, blamed the weather, or the neighbor further up the mountain who hadn’t opened his canal to relieve the volume of water coming down, or we had reacted with fear and anguish that the erosion would destroy the pasture. Certainly we would have suffered and quite possibly not have had the wits to look around to see that the materials for mending the breach were right there at our feet.

Noticing our reaction, we can choose to come into tender presence and by giving our full attention, listen deeply to what is needed and receive the wisdom that allows us to mend the breach.

What the Other Guy Should be Doing

My spiritual teacher, Adyashanti, told us a story last week to illustrate a profound “aha” about what it means to live authentically, to let go of the ego mind and all its ‘shoulds,’ and live from our true authenticate selves.

Here’s the story.

When he was a young man in his twenties he worked in a bike repair shop. It was a busy place and everyone scrambled to get all the work done that had to be done that day. The repair manager didn’t pitch in and help. He sat at his bench with his tools in front of him and read magazines. When asked why he didn’t help, he would say, that he was not paid to do anything; that his job was to make sure that they did what they were supposed to do.

This attitude didn’t sit well with my teacher. He suffered watching this able-bodied manager sitting there doing nothing but reading magazines while everyone else raced around to get the day’s work done. It really upset him. The more he thought about it, the more it upset him. This went on for some time.

Then, one day my teacher had an ‘aha.’ It came to him that he was upsetting himself because he had an idea of what his manager was supposed to be doing and the manager was not conforming to it. This idea of what should be happening was making him upset. Then he just let go.

He let go of his judgments about his manager. And, he let go of the endless mental activity around what he thought the manager should be doing.

By dropping into the now, my teacher understood that the manager was just the way he was and wasn’t causing him any difficulty. In seeing this, he understood the truth and let go of the thoughts and ideas about his manager. From that day on he was free and happy.

This is true freedom. The freedom that comes from waking up from being identified with our thoughts and ideas about what should be, what should happen, and how others should behave, think, or believe. Once we let go of all the ‘shoulds’ we are free to live truly authentic lives.

So each time, I catch myself saying, “should” I pause. Ah, that little ego-word is here I say gently to myself. Then I let it drop away as a leaf drops from the tree and I am happy.