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Posts Tagged ‘parable’

It was over my morning cup of coffee today that it occurred to me that as much as I like to think of myself as a spontaneous and free spirit, there are realms in which I am very much wedded to my habits. The coffee itself is a case in point. If there has been a day in the past decade that I didn’t begin the day with ‘the black water medicine’ I can’t recall it. I can stumble out of bed, dreams still clinging, barely awake, and make my way, eyes closed if I wanted, and find the drawer with the filters, the cabinet with the ground beans, the bottled water dispenser, the electric pot… each in a different place, and complete the morning ritual. At about 6AM everyday, you will always know just where to find me.

And so it was with the philosophy students and the beggar. Each day, a certain beggar would cross the bridge into the university district, and occupy his customary spot, propped up against the wall next to the coffee shop. Tin cup in hand, he would bless those who offered him a coin or two. At precisely 3PM, he would rise, proceed to the corner grocery for the makings of a simple meal, and walk back across the bridge to his humble home.

It happened that that he became an object of curiosity and discussion for the students, who at the time were engrossed in a heated back and forth about the nature of constancy and change. “It is clear the everything changes, and yet, it appears that for some, nothing changes at all. Take the beggar for example. Day after day, year after year, no matter the weather, there he is, at the same place at the same time.”

They wondered if it might be possible to disrupt the constancy of the beggar by drastically changing his circumstances. To this end, they found a way to put the proposition to a test. Each of the students contributed a gold coin, and this small treasure was deposited in a brightly colored small chest. Just before the beggar passed by the next day, one of their party, placed the open chest with gleaming gold on the bridge where the beggar could not possibly miss it.

Remarkably though, the beggar did not pause, nor slow, nor show the slightest interest in this treasure that would have substituted for a years gleaning from his battered cup. He continued on his way, then took his place by the coffee shop just as he did every other day.

A fierce debate now ensued about the beggars state of mind, his convictions, intentions,the vagaries of existence, the persistence of habit, and other associated matters of more or less great depth. But by the end of a long evening, they could agree on very little, other than that it might be best to ask the beggar himself about his experience earlier that day.

The following day they gathered outside the coffee house to question him. “ We often walk the same path across the bridge, and were wondering if you noticed anything unusual yesterday morning?”

“It’s so interesting that you would ask,” the beggar replied. “No, I did not see anything different or unusual at all. But then I actually didn’t see anything usual or unusual. This morning, just before I crossed the bridge, a curious thought came to me. What a creature of habit I am! Everyday it’s the same thing. Day after day after day! So yesterday, I wondered, just for a change, just for fun what life would be like if I was blind. So I walked across the bridge with my eyes closed. Blessings to you, young men. May your studies serve you well!”

(I’ve adapted this tale from a wonderful collection called Walking into the Sun, Stories My Grandfather Told, Collected by Jon Schreiber, California Health Publications, 1991)

I took my coffee out to the back porch. It’s the time of year now that the hummingbirds predictably return southward from their earlier spring migration. I closed my eyes, Suddenly the close buzz and whoosh of tiny wings woke me once again to the moment.

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I just remembered a story my father related to me on more than one occasion. I’ve always though of it as Dad’s Jack Story.  A little research today quickly reveals the lineage, or part of it.  Turn’s out that this is  a “Danny Thomas signature story.  Here it is.
“There’s this traveling salesman who gets stuck one night on a lonely country road with a flat tire and no jack. So he starts walking toward a service station about a mile away, and as he walks, he talks to himself. “How much can he charge me for renting a jack?” he thinks. “One dollar, maybe two. But it’s the middle of the night, so maybe there’s an after-hours fee. Probably another five dollars. If he’s anything like my brother-in-law, he’ll figure I got no place else to go for the jack, so he’s cornered the market and has me at his mercy. Ten dollars more.”
He goes on walking and thinking, and the price and the anger keep rising. Finally, he gets to the service station and is greeted cheerfully by the owner: “What can I do for you, sir?” But the salesman will have none of it. “You got the nerve to talk to me, you robber,” he says. “You can take your stinkin’ jack and . . .”
Upon a little reflection,seems to me, that I’ve been down that road with a flat tire and no jack many, many times.  Making assumptions, creating scenarios from them, working myself into a state, and acting in accordance… but of course, not acting in accordance with what was REALLY happening in the moment.

Years ago, we moved into a new neighborhood- our son was 14 and fond of playing rap music, playing loud rap music on his boom-box.  We had a neighbor two doors down, an older woman who we would often see walking, walking past our house, or a mile away making a long loop home. Her stride was always fast and determined, she looked straight ahead, and it seemed to us that she had a perpetual angry and sour look on her face.  Certainly when she walked by our house, she never slowed or made the slightest gesture in our direction.  We quickly decided that Hildegarde was probably annoyed or worse by the sound of that rap music. She didn’t like us and she really didn’t like our son.

The first time we ever spoke a word to her must have been 5 or 6 years later. She was still walking that long loop every day.   She knocked on our door and introduced herself to Liz who was home at the time. The purpose of her visit?  She asked Liz if she could pick some of the wildflowers that were growing in our front yard. (We’d traded a small lawn for wildflowers and a raised bed vegetable area.)  She quickly added that the flowers were for her son who had recently been diagnosed with a late stage cancer, and that he loved flowers… but only wildflowers.  Then Liz learned more.  Just about the time that we’d moved in, H’s husband had died of cancer.  These long walks that she took were her way of healing from this great loss.  What we’d interpreted as anger was much more about loss.  For six years, assumptions we made and a story we’d told ourselves had shut the door on the possibility of knowing our neighbor and what she was going through.

More years passed, and the time came when Liz and I jumped at an opportunity to live in New Mexico (the subject of another post) It was a good time for our son to be out on his own.  Long story short here.  When Hildegarde heard that we were leaving, she immediately asked what our son would do?  Where would he live?  She would be happy to offer him a room in her house.  She had always thought of what a nice kid he was.

I sit here, wondering what other opportunities for authentic engagement with others I’ve missed, what problems I might have more easily solved, what challenges more easily overcome had I not filled my mind with assumptions, scenarios and limiting beliefs.  Perhaps I’m doing that right now…

You knock on a door to ask for….
What are you thinking?

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Imagine that you’re on your boat spending an idyllic afternoon on a favorite lake. The weather is calm and  perfectly clear.  Suddenly you see another boat bearing down on you, headed for a collision.  You sound a warning but to no avail.  The boat broadsides you.  How do you feel?  What do you say to the pilot of the offending vessel?

Now, imagine exactly the same time of day, the circumstances are the same, except that now there is a thick pea soup fog.  You can’t see your own hand in front of your face.  Again you are broadsided  Are you as angry as you were when it was perfectly clear?  Now, once again imagine, the same place and time, and again in a thick fog, and once again you are broadsided.  This time you discover that there is no one on the other boat.  Now, how do you feel about the situation?

The Taoist  Chuang Tzu posed this scenario…… years ago. But it could not be more contemporary.  Hardly a day goes by when there is not an opportunity to reflect on this tale. From the most insignificant sleight, to the most egregious acts, it is worth asking if the mental weather is clear and calm, or foggy and clouded.  We joke about other people not playing with ‘full decks’ but if truth be told much(most?) of our actions and reactions arise in less than the equivalent of a calm and cloudless day.  Knowing that, might we be a little more understanding, sympathetic, helpful and forgiving?  Perhaps until we can really tame our egos, it might be best to consider than many of the ‘collisions’ we experience are the result of fog and the absence of truly accomplished pilot.  Everybody complains about the weather.  Maybe we should try and do something about it.
My guess is that most of us will have a chance to reflect on this timeless tale quicker than we can say, “ Hey buddy, what the hell are you doing?”

Onward through the fog!

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In a previous post (Stop the War) I wrote about the practice of Nevermind, the rare ability to let go of a strongly held position,  which for me is epitomized by Liz’s classic retort “in that case, I disagree with my previous statement!”
Staying with the motif, today I offer this story from the Well of the World.
Two men came to the village rabbi with a dispute.  What was the dispute about?  The details have long been forgotten, but this much of the story remains.  First one of the villagers made his case, explaining the ‘facts’ in great detail. The rabbi wrinkled his brow, stroked his beard, thought hard and replied, “ You’re absolutely right!”

Then it was the other man’s turn.  He came forward made his case, refuted his adversary point by point, then anxiously awaited the rabbi’s judgement.  Again, there was the furrowed brow, again whiskers were tugged, and a judgement was rendered. “You’re absolutely right!” said the rabbi.

It so happened that on that day, the rabbi’s wife was listening to the whole affair from the next room.   “Rabbi, what kind of justice is this?   These men argue two sides of the question, their positions are completely opposed.  They can’t both be right.”   Again the rabbi retreated into deep thought.  “Aha!” he exclaimed. “You’re absolutely right!

Was the rabbi a fool, a charlatan or a wise man?   You’re absolutely right!

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It’s About Time!

Just as I was marveling at how fast the past year went by, and how short time is, I remembered  how a shepherd boy answered the question posed to him by a wise man. “How many seconds are there in eternity?”

“There is a Diamond Mountain, which is two miles and a half high, two miles and a half wide, and two miles and a half in depth; every hundred years a little bird comes and sharpens its beak on it, and when the whole mountain is worn away by this, then the first second of eternity will be over.”

My father always feigned great relief to have learned that the sun would burn out in billions of years, not the millions of years he had feared.

Billions of years are flying by, and Diamond Mountain is wearing down.  This year we better get to work on what is most important to us!

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My cousin Arthur’s father was a lifelong advocate for peace, justice and civil rights.  This is something he wrote.  I’m writing this from Pomona New York.  Pomona, the Goddess of fruit.  Pomona, where I grew up surrounded by apple trees now mostly gone. If you are moved to tell it, or pass it on, please do.  I’d  love to know where this story travels.  If it sparks a story of your own, better yet!  I’d love to hear it.  I carry this story with me as a seed.

A Parable of Stones into Fruit

When we are out, looking around us, we see that there are so many stones 
that lie about, stones along the roadside; among the roots of the forest 
trees; on the bottoms of the streams. All different shapes, sizes and 
colors.

A stone can be lifted and thrown through an oak door… or window glass.  It 
can be cracked against another stone… or aimed at a person.

But what is it that WE would do with a stone?

We take up a stone, and we rub it, and we scrape it, and we work on it- as
 long as it may take to turn it into a pile of dust.

 Then we search for a seed, and we plant the seed in the pile of dust.  We 
sprinkle a little water on it, and we wait.

 The seed sprouts… and it quickly dies.

We plant another seed, and water it.  We make sure that it gets plenty of 
sunlight.

The seed sprouts, and it dies. 
Again we plant a seed. We give it water and sunlight.  And we wonder how
 it’s going to do this time? 

Once again the seed sprouts… and dies.

This doesn’t deter us.

We keep planting seeds, and nurturing them and one 
after another they die. 

One day there is ample organic matter from all the seeds that have sprouted
 and died.  We carefully gather this organic matter, and we grind it up, and
we mix it with the dust of the stone.

Again we plant a seed and give it water and sunlight.

This time it grows and takes root.

 We plant another seed and another.  Nearly all sprout and grow… and each 
one eventually dies and is transformed into soil. 

Finally, we have soil enough for a tree.  The tree sends down roots and 
grows.  One day it bears fruit.



We share the fruit with our friends, our neighbors and those who have little 
or nothing, and we enjoy it together.  Quietly.

If our companions ask where the fruit came from, we tell them the story of
 how it fell from a tree… that grew from a seed… that was planted in 
stone.

 There are many stones that lie around us.

Leon Kanegis

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The Two Frogs

I’m posting this especially for my friends and colleagues on the Reinvention Path as the Summit winds down.  By the way, there is a very similar story from the Hasidic tradition involving one of the fools of Chelm.  So, as we continue on our journey, looking forward and back may we remember these foolish frogs!

Greetings Traveler!

Once upon a time in the country of Japan there lived two frogs, one of whom made his home in a ditch near the town of Osaka, on the sea coast, while the other dwelt in a clear little stream which ran through the city of Kyoto. At such a great distance apart, they had never even heard of each other; but, funnily enough, the idea came into both their heads at once that they should like to see a little of the world, and the frog who lived at Kyoto wanted to visit Osaka, and the frog who lived at Osaka wished to go to Kyoto, where the great Mikado had his palace.

So one fine morning in the spring they both set out along the road that led from Kyoto to Osaka, one from one end and the other from the other. The journey was more tiring than they expected, for they did not know much about traveling, and halfway between the two towns there arose a mountain which had to be climbed. It took them a long time and a great many hops to reach the top, but there they were at last, and what was the surprise of each to see another frog before him!

They looked at each other for a moment without speaking, and then fell into conversation, explaining the cause of their meeting so far from their homes. It was delightful to find that they both felt the same wish–to learn a little more of their native country–and as there was no sort of hurry they stretched themselves out in a cool, damp place, and agreed that they would have a good rest before they parted to go their ways.

“What a pity we are not bigger,” said the Osaka frog; “for then we could see both towns from here, and tell if it is worth our while going on.”

“Oh, that is easily managed,” returned the Kyoto frog. “We have only got to stand up on our hind legs, and hold onto each other, and then we can each look at the town he is traveling to.”

This idea pleased the Osaka frog so much that he at once jumped up and put his front paws on the shoulder of his friend, who had risen also. There they both stood, stretching themselves as high as they could, and holding each other tightly, so that they might not fall down. The Kyoto frog turned his nose towards Osaka, and the Osaka frog turned his nose towards Kyoto; but the foolish things forgot that when they stood up their great eyes lay in the backs of their heads, and that though their noses might point to the places to which they wanted to go, their eyes beheld the places from which they had come.

“Dear me!” cried the Osaka frog, “Kyoto is exactly like Osaka. It is certainly not worth such a long journey. I shall go home!”

“If I had had any idea that Osaka was only a copy of Kyoto I should never have traveled all this way,” exclaimed the frog from Kyoto, and as he spoke he took his hands from his friend’s shoulders, and they both fell down on the grass. Then they took a polite farewell of each other, and set off for home again, and to the end of their lives they believed that Osaka and Kyoto, which are as different to look at as two towns can be, were as alike as two peas.


Source: Andrew Lang, The Violet Fairy Book (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1901), pp. 125-126.

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