When we look around us, we can feel like our world is heading for disaster. We might be upset by continual war or corruption in politics. We feel anxious that the world is so messed up. We work feverishly to make the world a better place, changing it to what we think it should be.
Could it be that the world has always been the way it is today?
When we review history, we see disastrous wars, persecution of minorities, and corruption in politics ubiquitous through time. From the beginning of recorded history, through Genghis Khan, the World Wars, to Iraq today, the human race has continually been at war. Similarly, there have been continual persecutions of minorities, such as religious groups and non-religious groups, throughout time. Also, ancient Rome, and all forms of government since, have had degrees of corruption. This is the reality of how the world has been in the past, how it is today, and how it will be in the future.
If the world has always been the way it is today, then why do we think we need to change it? Could it be that our perception of the world is what’s wrong? Could it be beneficial to shift our perspective so we’re aligned with the reality of how the world is, instead of resisting it? But how can we move beyond our perception that the world is messed up and accept it?
If we accept the reality of how the world is, then we can actually take action to affect change. We can make the world a better place by not thinking it should be different than it is.
Affecting change, however, requires action. Necessity is the mother of invention. When the need for something becomes imperative, we’re forced to find ways of change it. When we’re at war, we need peace; when we’re discriminated against, we need justice; when we witness corruption, we need truthfulness. The necessities of peace, justice, and truthfulness create an imperative need within us to take action. These necessities, together with accepting the world as it is, are part of the constant evolving nature of the world.
Resisting reality puts us in a state of constant anxiety. We live a life torn between reality and our perception of it. Living such a life diminishes our enjoyment and ability to take effective action on causes important to us. If we pay attention to the needs within us, then we can take action without anxiety. We’re not torn apart; we’re moving in unison in the direction of an evolving world.
The Climbing Process
Let’s bring this perspective to our climbing process. How many times have we complained about climbing holds being unusable, frustrated by our own effort, or wishing the climbing wasn’t so exhausting? We think our climbing situation isn’t as it should be. We think we’ll have a better climbing situation if the holds were bigger, if our effort was better, or if the climbing wasn’t so exhausting.
In reality, the climbing holds are as big or small as they are, not how we wish them to be. Our effort was whatever it was, not how we wished it to be. The climbing was as exhausting for us as it was, not how we wished it to be.
Affecting change requires action. Necessity again points the way. When we experience unusable holds, we need usable ones; when we feel frustration we need curiosity; when we feel exhaustion we need relaxation. The necessity of usable holds, curiosity, and relaxation create a need within us to take action. These necessities stimulate us to grow.
The Third Patriarch of Zen, Hsin Hsin Ming, said: “The Great Way is not difficult for those who have no preferences.” My interpretation of Ming’s preferences is preferring comfort and resisting stress. Life is full of stress and resisting it actually causes more stress. By shifting our perspective to not having preferences for comfort, we create a more effective and enjoyable situation for us.
For example, imagine we’re working a crux sequence on a route. We wish a hold was bigger than it is, resisting the reality of the situation. Wishing a hold was bigger creates additional stress. Whereas, if we accept holds as they are, then we only have the stress of figuring out the crux sequence. By accepting holds as they are, we allow the necessity for usable holds to guide us to solve the crux sequence.
Imagine that we’ve fallen on a route. By getting frustrated that we fell, we resist the reality of the situation. Then, we have to deal with figuring out why we fell, plus frustration. Whereas, if we accept that we fell, then we only have to figure out why we fell. By accepting that we fell, we allow the necessity of curiosity to guide us to figure out why we fell.
Imagine we’re on a climb, completely exhausted. By thinking we shouldn’t be exhausted, we resist the reality of the situation. Then, we have the additional stress of resisting it. Whereas, if we accept the exhaustion as it is, then we have only the exhaustion to deal with. By accepting exhaustion, we allow the necessity of relaxation to guide us to figure out how to rest so we can regain strength and stay engaged.
If we pay attention to the need for growth within us, then we can take action without anxiety. We’re not torn apart, fighting the reality of how the climbing situation is; we’re moving in unison with the constantly evolving learning situation.
The world has been, currently is, and will always have stressful events like war, minority discrimination, and corruption. Also, our climbing will always include stress. By accepting reality, we can let necessity move us, and enjoy the learning process; not think the world should be different, or live in a constant state of anxiety.
The more quickly we can accept this reality, the more spontaneously we can take effective action. This is what Zen teaches for developing a free mind, a mind unencumbered by preferences. By not having preferences for comfort; but instead, accepting situations as they are, we can act spontaneously on what’s necessary, and apply ourselves to affect change. Making the world a better place is achieved without anxiety because we don’t have preferences that interfere with reality.
Practice Tip: It is what it is
How many times have you thought a situation should have been different? You had preferences for comfort that resisted the reality of the situation. Perhaps you said:
“If the crux wasn’t so reachy, then I would have been able to climb it.”
“I’ve been training, so I should have been able to climb the route.”
“I was too exhausted to rest and regain strength, so I couldn’t continue climbing.”
Rather, eliminate preferences for comfort and accept the situation as it is. Say:
“How can I reach through the crux?”
“What do I still need to learn to climb the route?”
“How long can I rest, even if I feel like I’m too exhausted, and then continue climbing?”
Improving your climbing will not be as difficult, if you don’t have preferences for comfort.