Beyond the Cartoons

I’m struck this morning by the tendency of human beings to use our taxonomies to turn each other into simplistic, distorted cartoon characters. We take our categories -- which humans understandably use to help make sense of a complicated world -- way too far. Man, woman, old, young, boomer, millennial, black, white, brown, yellow, American, Asian, Latino. These labels become a substitute for an actual encounter with an infinitely complex, nuanced human being. 

The Taoists have a saying, “the Ultimate Tao that you can name is not the Ultimate Tao.” This seems to me to be a pointer to this truth: The human being you can label is not the human being that stands before you. 

I yearn for the letting go of our cartoon images of each other, and for the authentic encounters with each other that await us beyond the cartoons.

There’s no such thing as “I really don’t have a practice”

Often, when conversation turns to practice, I hear the following: “I really don’t have a practice.”

I no longer believe this to be true. I believe that, in fact, for each of us and all of us, our lived life is our practice. However I spend my time today is my practice today. Of course, if I get up, do yoga, sit in meditation, chant, pray, read a spiritual text, and the like, nobody would argue that I have a practice.

However, I would argue that the same is true if I get up, eat last night’s pizza, throw back a Bloody Mary, go back to bed, get up at noon, and stagger to the train to get to my afternoon job, and then go to a bar after work and drink beer while watching the NBA playoffs.

And, I’m not even arguing that “practice” is whatever you do regularly. I would suggest that even if there is no particular pattern to what I do from one day to the next, that this, too, is practice — perhaps we call it “the practice of living the random life.”

So, for me, the question is not whether or not I have a practice, but, instead, what is my practice?

Why is this inquiry important?

Because, regardless of whether our practice is purposeful, it is developmental. That is, it contributes to the development of our being. Note, that “development” is not necessarily “advancement”. If I bang my head with an iron rod, I’ll develop a headache. Development is not always what we want!

So, the inquiry into what my practice is really is an inquiry into what I am developing.

So, I invite you, I invite me, into this: examine today what it is you are practicing. And then, perhaps this: what is such a practice likely to develop in me as a being?