Our recent teachings have concerned themselves with our actions – acting in a manner consistent with accomplishing what is necessary and needs to be done in the unfolding of our lives in the present moment – in other words, appropriate action. This month’s teaching, Acting without Acting – from the Maverick Sutras by G. BlueStone – explores and further elucidates the various motivations for our actions – in short: why we respond or act the way we do in our lives.
What I have realized through my practice is that each of us has our own “story” – reflecting our conditioning and life experiences – which we have set up as walls or barriers that hinder us from experiencing the direct reality of our life right in front of us. When we sit in zazen, we begin to see how stories of regret, loss, and missed opportunities, for example, create suffering in our minds. We project our stories onto the moment and act from that, when what we really need to do is to let go of our projections, and perceive what the wholeness or integrity of each moment calls for in and of itself.
Although we tend to habitually respond to each situation in our lives from the fixed perspective of our personal “story,” in fact, all of our stories – as well as each moment – is empty of any fixed ideas, empty of permanence. All there is, is the coming and going of things moment by moment. Respond to each moment without any fixed ideas or answers and you open yourself to the fullness of life and your true self.
Therefore, through our practice, we come to realize that we don’t have to act out our lives according to our stories; there are other ways to live and act. It becomes clear that the recurrent influence of these stories separate us from our true nature that is functioning moment to moment and creates barriers between ourselves and others. By clarifying our lives, the barriers we have set up begin to dissolve and our relationship to the world and others improves.
Attend to the moment, discern its nature, and allow its need to speak to you. Then you will know what to do and how to do it.
Be kind to yourself
Acting Without Acting – G. BlueStone
The logical mind hears about non-action or non-effort, and manages to come up with something which is really just lethargy, or laziness. It might conjure up a picture of “spiritual” people, maybe old guys, meditating, doing nothing, or even getting things done with the use of mental rather than physical force. But that has nothing to do with non-action.
Because non-action is a way of acting! Non-action is the highest-quality action of all. It’s the Way of the Tao. It’s the way things work in Nature. It’s not a kind of doing nothing which is really just stagnation; it’s the kind of doing nothing which is acting with nothing-extra. Non-action simply means non-ownership of action. When we can simply act without the burdensome sense of ownership of “our” actions, our actions become pure: that extra speediness and tension are dropped, and our work becomes effortless because we cease opposing ourselves.
Our actions flow with the Greater Flow. Non-action isn’t laziness. When we act without this sense of ownership, an interesting thing happens: we act as if there is no actor! We act purely, as unself-consciously as a flower blooming in spring. We simply supply the concurrent causes and then allow things to get done.
Most people can only do this or that, one or the other: They can hurry or they can drag their feet, they can become personally involved and do a good job or they can be aloof and not give it their best shot. But either of these approaches has nothing at all to do with Practice. The Way of Practice is altogether different and involves entering totally, giving each task everything you have without the extra tension generated by the feeling of ownership, of overconcern with results, of the feeling, “I am the doer of it all.”
That’s Practice and that’s non-action, too. It’s the way to do things purely without being tainted by gaining mind. It’s the only way to act so that the will does not oppose the Flow. It’s easy. But it’s also easy to lose it in an instant. There are, however, a couple of sure-fire ways to get it down.
One is that each act is entered totally and then put behind you without self-congratulation. The other is even easier – it’s to esteem the wonderful and mysterious action of the Flow instead of just your own part in things.
And then, what are you really left with? You’re left with the Tao (the Way). With the mysterious action of an unfolding flower: You may not gain much, but you’re left with the flow of the Greater Flow.
Is that enough? It’s up to you.
Action is the culmination of Practice. But it’s how you act, the quality of that action, which is important and which transforms practice into Practice. It’s non-action. It’s action emerging from stillness, which is important. It’s acting without delusion as to the nature and results of your action, yet still acting anyway! It’s dynamic; it’s taking principles into your life and using them, but using them without owning them, without turning them into rules. photo credit: Will Montague via photopin cc