I’m top of the class at avoiding showing up, that I readily admit! But something tells me that the previous sentence itself is a good example of that very thing. It’s too easy to admit to failures if the alternative is to ‘just do it’, as Roshi said. But it’s a start – here are some examples of my own avoidance tactics.
Writing, or rather, not writing for considerably longer than the actual writing takes (yes, I seem to have started), says it all really. What can I possibly say in a Zen newsletter? For starters, it has to be wise and compassionate, as well as non-dualistic. It probably will include a couple of paradoxes too. And of course it has to be the best. Yes, I’m coming out as a fully-fledged, competitive perfectionist! And, to cap it all, I’m a monk – so it has to be even wiser and more compassionate. Alternatively, if I’m feeling low, then my story is that I’ve not got anything worth saying. Either way, is it any wonder nothing gets written? Well, I’ll just give up trying to be wise and compassionate, and have a stab at honesty. That’s hard enough!
Running away, or avoiding conflict, has been another long-term strategy of mine. Confrontation and disagreement just feel too uncomfortable. I hate that churning, butterflies, gut, fear feeling when I’m stuck between two people close to me who are arguing. Or one of them is getting angry or sulking. Or, horror of horrors, one of them is me! I’ve learned that, when I feel overwhelmed by someone, I tend to avoid telling them what’s bothering me. I just listen, make the odd mmm, even nod, wait for it to pass, or find an excuse to leave the situation. So they often assume, understandably, that I agree with what they’re saying. More than once, friends have said ‘I’m not a mind-reader, why didn’t you tell me?’
My parents were full of life, learning and fun, but never discussed feelings or encouraged us to do so. I never needed to run away from them because I learned how to please them, and luckily for me, I was good at that and enjoyed it! So I could get attention and approval and learn how to succeed. I can remember very clearly how I dealt with English literature in class. The teacher would ask a question. I’d wait, listen to other people’s answers, and pick up the clues from how she responded to them. I’d sass out what she was after, then go in for the kill with the ‘right’ answer and get the praise. Devious, but it worked! Approval was my all-important aim here.
However, I can also be a rebel – that has been a regular pattern for me too. If I’m part of a group, then I have support. Mum used to say I was always a ‘joiner’. First it was our street club, then Girl Guides, evangelical Christianity (I know!), socialism, feminism. They’ve all done me proud over the years. If there’s a cause, a greater goal, and the necessary ‘us’ and ‘them’ which follow, it’s so much easier to be courageous and to have a sense of purpose. It also allows me to break the rules – getting married in church when my parents couldn’t have been less religious, starting a trade union group, becoming a radical feminist… But these groups usually create divisions and involve over-simplification. That doesn’t mean I don’t feel MY views are the correct ones, however! Although MY views are also allowed to change – for very rational, well-rehearsed reasons, of course.
Another way of avoiding things I find very useful is having lists. The important decisions are often not on the list – I’ll deal with them when I’ve dealt with The List, that’s the theory. I remember once saying to Sensei, I must get organised. He said – Miranda, have you ever been organised? Far too good a question! It’s the equivalent of another list, of course. ‘I’m getting there’ is a favourite mantra of mine. Getting where, indeed! Being organised? Being minimalist? Being wise, calm, compassionate? Exercising every day? Doing zazen every day? Getting out of bed even? All of those, at one time or another.
So have I learned to show up, insecurities and all? Sometimes, but it’s very scary. Zazen sometimes helps me to ‘get out of the way’ and act in ways I wouldn’t have thought possible, when I allow the process in. Strangely, when I left my long-term partner a few years ago, it didn’t feel brave; it felt as if I was running away again. It took ages before I could even write to her properly to explain. I imagined how she would interpret what I said, and I guessed she wouldn’t understand. I even wanted her approval of me having left her!!
What I’ve learned in less difficult situations is that I can disagree with someone, or I can say no, and the world doesn’t usually fall apart. I don’t always need to be the diplomat or the smiley friendly face. Sometimes it’s much easier than I’d thought. I realise now how much time I spend imagining how other people will react to what I’ll say, and often I’m wrong. It’s like the boat coming towards me with no-one in it, I‘ve been worrying, or feeling angry, about something completely fictional. What a waste of time and energy these tangled webs can be! Practice works both ways – the old habits have been very well-practised, and letting go or surrender means giving up the semblance of control I like to think I have. But isn’t all the potential extraordinary?
As Samuel Beckett said –
“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”