Sometimes We Make It Harder Than We Have To

Sue Bergeson Health Guide
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    Zen Question and Response


    The students of Tibetan Buddhist Kalu Rimpoche and those of Providence Zen Center founder Seung Sahn arranged for the two Zen masters to meet and engage in dialogue.

    When Seung Sahn arrived, he picked up an orange, held it in front of Kalu Rimpoche, and asked, "What is this?" The students awaited an insightful reply, illuminating the nature of reality, but Kalu Rimpoche looked stumped.

     

    Seung Sahn repeated his question with greater emphasis, but Kalu Rimpoche had no answer. Seung Sahn put forth the question a third time.

     

    Finally Kalu Rimpoche responded, "It seems that Seung Sahn has never seen an orange before."

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    I was thinking about this story for a while. It kind of bothered me. I found all kinds of ways to understand the story based on how I read the text. Was Kalu Rimpoche being sarcastic? Was he giving his "rival" master (which makes no sense in the context of a Zen construct) a put-down for testing him in such a clever way?

     

    Was Seung Sahn trying to "show off" his greater wisdom and strength by taking the offense? And was he nicely put in his place by the wiser, gentler Kalu Rimpoche who refused to play his game? Were they both giving a lesson to their students who somehow needed them to meet in some kind of cataclysmic Zen showdown?

     

    I finally came around to a much simpler reading of the text: Sometimes we make it harder than we have to. If I don't know what an orange is, I should ask. The person I've asked should take me at face value and answer.

     

    I think sometimes many of us get caught up in living with this difficult, chronic illness. We read everything we can. We study all the info about the medications. We have a recovery plan. We come up with wellness tactics. We track our symptoms. We watch our early warning signals. We engage our friends as support to give us insight. We go to talk therapy, group therapy and support groups. We create a WRAP plan and an advance directive.

     

    Sometimes, our illness rules our lives. We watch every nuance and consider how best to respond. For example: I'm tired, so I figure that means I must be cycling down. And I add another wellness tool to counteract my symptom. I carefully consider any actions in the past week that might have triggered this downward slide.

     

    But the reality is that sometimes I'm just plain tired. Like anybody else. Because I worked too long or stayed up too late watching a favorite TV show.

     

    I need to work my wellness, but I can also allow some space in my life to live. I need to credit normal feelings to normal activities ... not as an early warning of problems to come.

     

    Sometimes an orange is just an orange.

     

    I'm going to remember that when I feel out of balance ... when working my wellness starts controlling my life ... when I need to just breathe.

     

    Have you had an "orange is just an orange" experience?

     

Published On: August 21, 2008