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Audio eLesson_2013-1007

There is a story of a Zen monk who was admired for his wisdom. The town where he lived thought it would be helpful for the community if they made him a judge. In the beginning, a court assistant was assigned to help the Zen monk learn the ways of the court. There was a dispute between two people on his first case. The first man explained his side of the issue and why he thought he was right. The Zen monk responded saying, “Right, right. You’re absolutely right.” The court assistant was shocked by this and whispered into his ear, “Sir, you cannot tell him he is right. You haven’t heard both sides of the issue yet.” The Zen monk replied, “Right, right. You’re absolutely right.” Then the other man explained his side of the issue and why he should be judged as right. The Zen monk again said, “Right, right. You’re absolutely right.” The court assistant was now quite frustrated and thought the Zen monk was mad. Again, he leaned over and whispered into his ear saying, “You can’t say both are right. How can both of them be right?” The Zen monk again said, “Right, right. You’re absolutely right.”

At first glance, it seems that the Zen monk is crazy. Yet, he has subtle wisdom. Namely, that we all have our own understanding and we think our understanding is right. The story illustrates that the mind has a limiting tendency to think it’s right and will focus our attention on validating our current understanding. The essence of the story is revealed when the Zen monk answers the court assistant’s final question “How can both of them be right?” by again saying “Right, right. You’re absolutely right.” He’s saying: yes, obviously, how can both of them be right? They can’t, so each of them must be a little wrong. Admitting that we are a little wrong in our understanding is the beginning of become more aware.

In the last lesson we learned that we need to strive for comfort indirectly by valuing and engaging stress. To engage and process ourselves through stress requires expanding beyond our current understanding. Consider the graphic accompanying this lesson, which I call the Bullet. The inner circle represents our comfort zone; the outer circle encloses the stress zone. We can’t process ourselves through that slice of stress by thinking our current understanding is right. Our current understanding lies within the inner circle: the comfort zone. Thinking we are right is a validating approach to learning. It focuses our attention on confirming the information we already know, instead of modifying it, taking our understanding to a higher, expanded level.

To learn, we must modify, not validate, our current understanding. We must let go of being right and accept that our current understanding is a little wrong. This is challenging because the mind is attached to our current understanding. Why? Because doing that is comfortable. Our current understanding is, by definition, what lies within our comfort zone. We may know something about what lies in the stress zone, but because it’s stressful, our understanding of it is limited and incomplete. In other words, we haven’t had enough experiences of what lies within that slice of stress to bring it into our comfort zone. Again we come up against this unconscious tendency of the mind to strive for comfort. Expanding out and modifying our current understanding requires us to change, and that’s stressful, not comfortable.

Do we catch ourselves arguing with others, validating our understanding, or are we asking questions in a curious manner, sincerely looking to modify our understanding? It’s helpful for each of us to dwell on this question rather than answer it. That way we’ll be attentive to our process on an on-going basis.

We need awareness. If we are validating our current understanding, then we are unconscious victims of the mind’s limitations. We don’t need to be Zen monks to have the wisdom to understand this concept. We simply need awareness that the mind has this tendency, notice when we fall into the validating trap, and redirect attention to modifying our understanding.

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Raelinn

    great reminder, as always.

  2. Mell

    Thanks, Arno.

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